Like other NBA teams bursting at the salary cap seams, the L.A. Clippers don’t have much purchasing power when it comes to free agents this offseason. But they do have two things going for them:
- A talented and playoff-tested roster that reached the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history and came within two games (and a busted Kawhi Leonard knee) of playing on the NBA’s main stage.
- The wish of other teams to get something — anything — instead of just cap space for certain free agents likely be elsewhere next season.
And both could be key factors in the Clippers landing a relatively big fish in a sign-and-trade scenario this summer.
At least that’s the thinking of Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley, who recently wrote up a trade that would add four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan to the Clippers roster.
DeRozan Could Take Strain off Kawhi and PG
The trade proposed by Buckley would send center Ivica Zubac and sharpshooter Luke Kennard to San Antonio in exchange for DeRozan, who would need to agree to a sign-and-trade in order to make the deal possible.
From the Clippers’ perspective, Buckley envisions the trade most directly helping L.A.’s biggest stars, Leonard and Paul George, the former of whom is expected to re-sign with the Clippers even if he opts out of the player option attached to the final year of his contract.
“The Clippers could use one more shot creator to ease the pressure on Paul George and Kawhi Leonard (assuming he stays in free agency) and provide protection should either be lost to injury,” wrote Buckley.
Leonard and George were each All-NBA selections last season, but they often had to do much of the heavy-lifting themselves, forced to create their own shot and take on ball-handling responsibilities to the detriment of their stamina at times. This was particularly true during the multiple extended absences of point guard Patrick Beverley, who missed nearly half the season with injuries and is not the world’s greatest ballhandling facilitator even when healthy.
DeRozan, on the other hand, has tremendous handles at 6-foot-6 and has developed into an efficient and creative passer, averaging 6.2 assists against just 2.3 turnovers over the last three seasons.
Better yet, he has consistently been one of the best in the league at finding his own shot, and is uncommonly preferential to penetrating or shooting from mid-range than launching from three. In 12 seasons, DeRozan has taken 90% of his shots from inside the arc — a rarity for players now (Bradley Beal, also a high-scoring mid-range guy, took 73% of his shots from two this season) and something Buckley views as another positive in joining the Clippers, who have a bevy of long-distance options apart from Kennard.
“L.A. could surround DeRozan with shooters,” wrote Buckley, “freeing him to attack from his preferred spots in the mid-range and around the basket.” Over the last two seasons, the rangy 6-foot-6 DeRozan has averaged 21.9 points on 51.4% shooting.
And DeRozan has been remarkably durable ever since tearing a tendon in his left leg with Toronto in 2014-15. In the last six seasons, despite averaging 34.7 minutes per contest, DeRozan has missed a total of only 34 games, with many of those attributable to rest. Leonard and George were each sidelined for double-digit games during this regular season for a variety of ailments.
DeRozan’s Defense Is a Problem
But as much as DeRozan has to offer the Clippers, there are drawbacks to such a trade. First and foremost, DeRozan is a poor defender. Though he possesses excellent length and athleticism, he is often caught flat-footed and can go through stretches when he consistently makes the wrong decisions on switches and defending the pick and roll.
According to FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR metric, or Robust Algorithm Player Tracking On/Off Ratings (nerd alert!), amongst guys playing 1055 minutes or more, DeRozan was the 12th-worst defender in the league last season. (Kennard was 6th-worst.)
Additionally, his hesitancy and inability to shoot from three (25.7% on 0.8 attempts over the last two seasons) could at times foil L.A.’s affinity for spreading the floor and launching from three, allowing teams to somewhat cheat off him when he doesn’t have the ball.
There’s also what the Clippers will be giving up in return. Losing Zubac would essentially leave the Clippers without a traditional big man, assuming they don’t re-sign DeMarcus Cousins and Serge Ibaka, who is expected to opt-in on his player option given that a full recovery from recent back surgery is far from assured.
At only 24, Zubac’s game has improved tremendously over the last two seasons and he would be a significant loss defensively for the Clippers. Kennard, on the other hand, though he surely won’t be missed on defense, is a confident shooter from three and has begun to expand his playmaking repertoire.
And finally, it remains to be seen if the Spurs would want just Zubac and Kennard in the first place (Spurs center Jakob Poeltl is under contract for two more years) or if DeRozan, despite getting an opportunity to play for a legitimate contender in his hometown of Los Angeles, would take the pay cut required for this trade.
DeRozan has banked over $27 million each of the last three seasons, while combined Zubac and Kennard would only send back a little more than $20 million.