Despite being severely limited financially and with their championship prospects dimmed in the wake of Kawhi Leonard’s offseason ACL surgery, the L.A. Clippers have done a reasonably good job of maximizing their roster this summer.
They re-signed free agents Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum on the cheap ($13.5 million combined) and shed salary while lowering their tax bill by dealing Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo and Daniel Oturu for Eric Bledsoe. They’ve also wisely taken inexpensive flyers on forwards Justise Winslow and Harry Giles — former first-round picks whose short careers have so far been addled by injuries and inconsistency.
Winslow and Giles are both Duke products and they join a third Blue Devil on the L.A. roster, 25-year-old shooting guard Luke Kennard, who averaged 19.6 minutes over 63 games last season after joining the Clippers in November and signing a 4-year, $64 million extension in December that kicks in this coming season.
Kennard projects to see more minutes with Leonard sidelined and could be an important factor in the Clippers remaining relevant if he can replicate last season’s 44.6% from three and contribute more as a playmaker. But there are many who believe Kennard’s extension was ill-conceived to begin with (he was extended before playing a minute for L.A.) and that his potential return on investment, at least with the Clippers, is not nearly significant enough to justify his nearly $14 million average annual salary.
Last week, Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley, in a piece titled “How Every NBA Team Can Trade Its Worst Contract,” suggested trading Kennard and second-round picks to the New Orleans Pelicans for guard Tomas Satoransky.
Kennard Can Shoot, but His Defense Can Be Shoddy
In proposing the trade, Buckley stipulates that finding a buyer for Kennard’s contract could be difficult given that Kennard doesn’t do enough offensively to make up for his “defensive shortcomings.”
In last season’s playoffs, the 6-foot-5 Kennard, whose fleetness of foot should never be at the top of his resume, saw just four minutes over the first five games against Dallas because of defense. And in Game 1 of the next round against Utah, he was repeatedly hunted on high switches by Donovan Mitchell, particularly in the fourth quarter when Mitchell was able to get to the bucket with ease and scored 18 of his game-high 45 points.
But the Dallas and Utah series also provided prime examples of why some teams could have interest in acquiring Kennard and his considerable contract: The dude can shoot. In L.A.’s Game 7 win against Dallas, the Ohio native scored 11 points in under 15 minutes, connecting on 3-of-5 threes. And in that first game against Utah, the only reason Kennard was even on the floor to witness Mitchell’s fourth-quarter explosion was his own lights out shooting — going 7-for-9 from the field and 4-for-6 from three to finish with 18 points in 29 minutes.
Kennard ranked eighth overall last season in 3-point percentage and his career average of 41.3% from behind the arc is eighth amongst active players.
Though Buckley echoes the sentiments of many around Clipper Nation that Kennard needs to do more playmaking, he believes that New Orleans, in particular, could use Kennard’s shooting acumen to help “space the floor” around interior powerhouse Zion Williamson. The Pelicans added DeVonte Graham this summer to go with Brandon Ingram and first-round draft pick Trey Murphy, but apart from those guys, space-creating spot-up shooters are scarce.
Williamson has already shown that he can dominate without much room to move, so adding another legitimate perimeter threat could only help. Whether that justifies taking on Kennard’s contract is unknown, but certainly the Pelicans would like to get Zion more space one way or the other.
Satoranksy Exists on Steadiness, Defensive Length
Naturally, the Clippers would lose some offensive firepower in a swap for Satoransky, who is demonstrably a pass-first guard. Over five NBA seasons — three with Washington and the previous two with Chicago (he was part of the Lonzo Ball trade this summer) — the Czech Republic native has averaged just 5.8 field goal attempts per game, with the high watermark coming in 2019-20 when he hoisted 8.5 attempts. He is a 7.7 point career scorer.
In lieu of scoring, Satoransky collects a paycheck primarily for two reasons:
First, he is consistently steady with the ball. In 349 career appearances, including 16 playoff contests, Satoransky has committed more than four turnovers in a game just four times, and his single-season assist-to-turnover ratio has never dipped below 2.5 nor has it exceeded 3.4. Satoransky will rarely try to play outside his bounds, which can be a luxury for coaches when it comes to role players (but can also lead to frustration when circumstances call for more aggressiveness).
The other benefit of Santoransky is his length defensively. At 6-foot-7 and with fundamentally sound footwork, he’s shown that he can check bigger guards on the perimeter and not get systematically exploited on the blocks. He’s not going to lockdown many guards or wings, but he is less prone to getting lit up like the shorter and less-agile Kennard. (Kennard, it should be noted, is a better athlete than his reputation may suggest. According to reports, he registered a max vertical leap of 38 1/2 inches during a pre-draft workout in 2017.)
Another reason the Clippers could be enticed to trade Kennard for Satoransky is the latter’s expiring contract. He will make $10 million this season, according to Spotrac, and become an unrestricted free agent this summer. L.A. could free up cap space by letting him walk at that point or offer him a similar or less lucrative deal if they decide he is worth keeping around.
His expiring contract is also attractive as a possible trade asset at the deadline, in the event the Clippers exceed first-half expectations and wish to bolster their lineup for a playoff run. The same, however, could go for the Pelicans, which would be a valid reason to keep Santoransky in New Orleans.
All told, both teams have reasons to like and dislike a Kennard-Satoransky trade. But given the size of Kennard’s deal and the expiring nature of Satoransky’s, it seems unlikely the Pelicans would pull the trigger.
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