The Extra Pass: Assessing Trade Situations (Pacific Division)

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Yesterday, we looked at the Northwest Division. Today, we head out to the Pacific Division.

Los Angeles Clippers: 32-10, 1st in Pacific Division, $440,000 short of tax

Off Limits: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul

Since the Clippers have a great early season record, tons of depth, and a roster that is right at the tax line, any big deal would be a shock. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are obviously excluded from any conversation. The Clippers are gunning for a championship.

Most likely to be dealt: PG Eric Bledsoe ($1.7 million/2 years)

With his suffocating defense and his 22.2 PER, Bledsoe has earned a starting opportunity somewhere, and Chris Paul has said as much. However, trading Bledsoe for a proven wing (which would likely be the target) would be difficult given his low salary and the Clippers lack of desire to go into the tax. Most likely, they’d have to combine Bledsoe with someone like Caron Butler, an average small forward but a perfect fit as an outside shooter. Also, with Paul still not having signed on with the Clippers long-term (even though everyone expects he will), Bledsoe represents an insurance policy. Although it’s likely he’s traded eventually, doing it this season doesn’t make much sense for the Clippers.

Player to target: SG Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic

The Clippers’ previous regime was high on Afflalo in Denver, viewing him as the perfect corner shooter (51% on corner 3-pointers this year) and wing defender to put next to Paul and Griffin. With Orlando rebuilding completely after the 2013-14 season and needing a young franchise point guard, there would almost certainly be mutual interest. There will be plenty of suitors for Bledsoe and getting a strong two-way player on the wing in return will likely be the priority down the line.

Chances of a deal: Low

The Clippers have done much of what they’ve done through great chemistry and depth. With little needs to address and very little financial flexibility, it’s unlikely the Clippers make a move now.

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Golden State Warriors25-15, 2nd in Pacific Division, $1.2 million in tax

Off limits: Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes

Curry was just signed to a very reasonable long-term deal (averaging around $10 million a year) and has a good chance at making the All-Star team this year. Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes are productive players on rookie deals, and there’s a reason why those types of players rarely get dealt. You can probably add David Lee and Carl Landry to this list because they’ve played so well, but they aren’t quite as hands-off as these three.

Most likely to be dealt: SF Richard Jefferson ($10 million/2 years)

Can the Warriors somehow find a sucker for Jefferson’s contract? They have reportedly shopped Jefferson recently, trying to get Memphis to take on his contract in exchange for Rudy Gay. While it makes sense the Grizzlies balked, Jefferson will only become more valuable as a trade asset as his contract nears expiring status for the 2014 offseason, which should be a free agent frenzy. With teams like Orlando already gearing up for the free agents available during that time, Jefferson might be easier to move than his contract and lack of production suggests.

Player to target: SF Tayshaun Prince, Detroit Pistons

The Warriors were on the right track with Gay, but the Grizzlies needed to cut cap now (which they’ve done). The Pistons can be one of the biggest players in free agency two years from now if they unloaded forwards Prince ($6.7 million over 3 years) and Jonas Jerebko ($4.5 million over 3), clearing over $10 million total. Swapping Jefferson for Prince and filler would work from a positional standpoint, although the Warriors would almost certainly have to throw in draft picks to account for the difference in talent. Unless the Pistons really think they’re contending for the playoffs, the Warriors could add a nice piece and maybe even get under the tax themselves.

Chances of a deal: High

It’s not very often a playoff run happens in Oakland, so don’t be surprised if Warriors management makes an extra move to help in the push for a homecourt advantage. That’s something that would make the Warriors a very scary first round opponent. 

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Los Angeles Lakers: 17-24, 3rd in Pacific Division, $29 million in the tax

Off-limits: Kobe Bryant

You can’t trade Kobe without his consent, he makes $27 million a year, and the thought of seeing Bryant in another jersey for Lakers fans is sickening. He’ll play his massive contract out. As for everyone else? Given the team’s performance this season, it’s hard to imagine anyone else is untouchable.

Most likely to be dealt: C Pau Gasol ($19 million/2 years)

Notice how I listed Gasol as a center? That’s because he is one, and that’s how opposing teams will view him as a potential acquisition. The Gasol-Howard combo should have been deadly, but it’s a defensive combo that’s far too slow to defend anything well. Pair them with a slow, incapable perimeter defender in Nash and an aloof off-ball defender in Bryant, and you’ve got the 20th ranked defense in the league. Will moving Gasol fix all of that? No. But getting someone who can actually move a bit defensively and stretch the defense in exchange for the scapegoat seems like a course of action the Lakers might take.

Players to target: PF Ersan Ilyasova, C Samuel Dalembert, SF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

The Bucks should be the first team on speed dial for the Lakers. They have a stretchy 4 in Ilyasova who is a career 36 percent 3-point shooter, a good shotblocking center who is buried on the bench in Dalembert, and a really good individual defender who can guard just about anyone on the floor in Mbah a Moute. If those pieces don’t fit, Mike Dunleavy is an ace perimeter shooter and Beno Udrih is a solid backup point guard on an expiring deal. Gasol would add the low-post scoring the Bucks desperately need — something that might finally vault them off the treadmill of mediocrity. The Lakers could use the depth and plus defenders, but more importantly, the tax relief the expiring deal of Dalembert or Udrih would provide next season. I know the TV deal was huge and the Lakers’ pockets run deep, but the incredibly punitive repeater tax will hurt them down the line. They can’t keep this up.

Chances of a deal: Very High

The pitchforks are out. Lakers fans don’t take too kindly to losing, and Dwight Howard’s future with the franchise is at stake. Now is not the time to sit back and do nothing.

***

Sacramento Kings16-26, 4th in Pacific Division, $12 million short of tax

Off-Limits: No one

The Kings may say they’re holding on to DeMarcus Cousins, and with the change of ownership and the move putting things up in the air, that may be true. Still, it’s easy to imagine a blowout sale here that puts the team right at the minimum salary. New owners typically like the cupboard bare and the paychecks light to start their franchise. Cousins could be used as the piece that sends out less desirable contracts.

Most likely to be dealt: SF Francisco Garcia ($6.1 million/2 years, with last year being a team option)

That team option essentially makes Garcia an expiring contract, as no GM in their right mind would pick him up at $6 million per. That said, Garcia is still a useful player in the “3 and D” mold. His career 36 percent 3-point shooting should make him a target for teams looking to add to their benches for a playoff run.

Player to target: Anyone on a rookie contract

As we’ve said, those contracts are the most valuable in sports. They don’t even need to be particularly productive players — it might be better for the Kings if they’re not. The sad truth is that in the NBA, you usually have to get really bad before you can get really good. I would be shocked if the Seattle version of this team looks anything remotely similar to the Sacramento version.

Chances of a deal: TBD

Kind of a cop-out, I know, but we need to know more officially about the change of management, how much the Maloofs will be invested, and who will be making the decisions for the rest of the season. Either way, cutting salary seems like a mutually beneficial option for the old ownership group and the new guys.

***

Phoenix Suns13-28, Last in Pacific Division, $17 million short of tax

Off-Limits: Luis Scola

Not because Scola is this unattainable asset or anything — he just can’t be acquired until a year after his amnesty claim date, meaning Phoenix can’t trade him to anyone this season. Everyone else can probably be had for the right price.

Most likely to be dealt: C Marcin Gortat ($7.7 million/2 years)

Gortat may say that he doesn’t want to escape the sinking boat, but it’s clear he’s unhappy in Phoenix. As one of the few assets who can actually bring back something substantial, whether it be draft picks or a young player, the Suns would be crazy not to shop Gortat. It’s nice to think he’s a piece for the future, but he’s already 28 years old and highly unlikely to stay when the choice truly becomes his.

Player to target: PG Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

This, of course, is crazy. But if for some reason the Celtics decide the combo of Gortat and Dragic is more valuable than Rondo and a salary dump (like Courtney Lee or Brandon Bass), then it might be worth exploring. Rudy Gay becomes a free agent the same time Rondo does, and the two apparently want to play together, so maybe Phoenix represents their best shot. All hypothetical trades aside, Phoenix either needs to find a way to acquire a true star on a long-term deal, or bottom out and rebuild through the draft. Going halfway with signings like Dragic and Michael Beasley isn’t the way to do it.

Chances of a deal: Medium

With Lindsey Hunter replacing long-time coach Alvin Gentry, it’s a period of change for the Suns. Despite the lost season, there are some valuable assets still on board. Jared Dudley is shooting 39 percent from behind the arc and should be a hotly pursued commodity as a solid role player. If someone comes along with the right package of draft picks for one of their bigger pieces, the Suns’ brass would be hard pressed to say no.

Doc Rivers said Clippers knew Thunder wanted to breakup Westbrook/George combo

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Oklahoma City looked like a small market success story — they had Russell Westbrook (he stayed and re-signed for the max) and rolled the dice on Paul George, and then he stayed. It was a top-heavy roster (Stephen Adams makes a lot of money, too) but one that won 49 games… and then got bounced in the first round of the playoffs by Portland.

That playoff loss seemed to show a ceiling for the Westbrook/George Thunder and had the franchise doing some soul searching.

However, in the wake of George forcing his way to the Clippers in a trade, rumors bubbled up that teams thought the Thunder wanted out of their expensive, non-contending team. Clippers coach Doc Rivers confirmed they knew that, speaking to Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times.

“We showed [Leonard] everybody else and he didn’t want to hear it. He just stayed on Paul George, so after the meeting we sat down and I said, ‘We got to get Paul George. I don’t know how we are going to do it, but we have to do it.’ We did know that Oklahoma City wanted to break their team up, so that helped, but we didn’t know if we could get him.”

Turns out they could get him, but the price was high — one the Clippers saw as worth it, but steep nonetheless. For the Thunder, that high price is the foundation of a rebuild.

How did the Thunder get there?

After Damian Lillard sank his “shot for Seattle” that sent the Thunder home for the summer, it seems all the soul-searching in OKC had them thinking about breaking it all up earlier rather than later. If they really felt this is as far as they could go with Westbrook and George — and it would have been tough to put a much better team around them due to cap limitations, either way this was a team that needed a lot of things to go right to get out of the first round — then it made sense to move on if the right deal came along.

Fans in Oklahoma City have never had to sit through an NBA rebuild, the team that showed up from Seattle may have won only 29 games that first season but had Kevin Durant and Westbrook and was already a team on the rise. After that, the team has never won fewer than 45 games, had one Finals trip and years of contention. There’s going to be some ugly basketball in OKC for a few years, we will see how that market reacts.

League executives reportedly think Clippers are better than Lakers, but by how much?

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis is the best two-man duo on the NBA.

If this were a classic game of NBA Jam, everyone would pick them to win it all.

However, NBA basketball remains a 5-on-5 sport where rotation players, depth, and fit all matter. A lot. Especially for contenders.

In that context, the Lakers’ Staples Center roommates — the Clippers — are better poised to win it all. The Clippers have Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, JaMychal Green, and a team that was both tough to play against and made the playoffs before Kawhi Leonard and Paul George showed up.

Don’t take my word for it, Ethan Straus of The Athletic polled some NBA executives about the Lakers and Clippers and got this response:

Everyone agrees that it exists, but to varying degrees. In league circles, Lakers skepticism has burbled about for some time, before and after Anthony Davis awkwardly made his way to Los Angeles. Questions of fit and chemistry persist, and many are noting just how many games LeBron James has played up to this point. Like the Warriors, the Lakers are also lacking in perimeter defense, in a league where it seems to matter more than ever….

Shoulder injuries are unpredictable and George will be out for a lengthy stretch. Given that Kawhi Leonard already only plays so many games, the Clippers might struggle to keep pace in the standings. As one executive put it re: the Los Angeles gap, “There is a big gap in likelihood of winning the title. Not sure about reg season wins.”

What makes the Clippers the favorite going into the season is not simply Leonard and George, it’s that they have two of the elite two-way wings in the NBA, and those kinds of players at that position have a great track record of playoff success. The Clippers should be a strong defensive unit that can throw a lot of different looks and players at teams, but also one that can score efficiently. Then they bring Williams and Harrell off the bench for a jolt of energy and scoring. Doc Rivers knows how to coach and meld a team. There’s a lot to like.

There are a lot of questions with the Clippers, there are just far more with the Lakers — nobody really trusts their role players to all fit well, there’s coaching staff turnover, and then there’s the question of whether LeBron’s injury last season was a one-off fluke or the start of a trend for the 35-year-old.

The Los Angeles squads are not alone, every contender this season has some serious questions to answer. It’s what makes this season so fascinating and different from recent ones.

Klay Thompson on Trump: “I didn’t appreciate the language he used with Bahamians”

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Klay Thompson has said it before and is saying it again:

He’s pissed at what President Donald Trump said and did in the wake of the destruction hurricane Dorian brought to the 700-island nation of the Bahamas, where at least 51 people died (that number is likely very low, with more than 1,300 people still listed as missing).

Thompson has deep ties to the Bahamas. His father Mychal — a former No. 1 NBA draft pick who was a member of the Showtime Lakers — was born there. The Thompson family has long had a special relationship with the island, with Klay having spent a lot of time there in his youth. Klay felt the need to defend the Bahamas after the Trump Administration did not grant “Temporary Protected Status” to the people fleeing the destruction on the island so they could come work and live in the USA until it was safe to return.

Thompson spoke to Mark Medina of the USA Today.

“I didn’t appreciate the language he used with Bahamians,” Thompson told USA TODAY Sports. “They’re gang members and criminals? I’ve known Bahamians my whole life. Yes, there are criminals in Nassau. But there are criminals worldwide. When you lose everything, your home, your loved ones and thousands are dead, and then you generalize a whole population, I thought it was very very ill advised and bad timing. That language really (ticked) me off.”

Trump, while not granting “temporary protected status” to the people of the Bahamas fleeing the destruction from Dorian, said “I don’t want to allow people that weren’t supposed to be in the Bahamas to come into the United States, including some very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very, very bad drug dealers.”

“He’s wrong about the gang affiliations over there,” Mychal said. “There are people over there that are good people. Hard-working people. So he was wrong with that statement. I don’t think (other) Americans have misconceptions about Bahamians. We don’t have gang problems and that type of hard problems in the Bahamas. We have people who are in need and in poverty. But for the most part, Bahamians are great people and help each other out in times of need. That’s what they’re doing right now.”

Klay and Mychal, through their family foundation and a golf fundraiser with proceeds going to Bahamas relief, think they will donate about $1 million to the relief effort.

It’s going to take billions of dollars and many years for the Bahamas to return anywhere near its former self. The Thompson family is raising money, but more importantly, is raising awareness. It’s the start of a long, long process.

Thompson himself continues his recovery from a torn ACL suffered during the NBA Finals, an injury that will keep him out for much, and potentially all, of next season.

Clippers reportedly plan on playing Kawhi Leonard more than Raptors did last season

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Kawhi Leonard was the poster child for load management last season.

The Raptors essentially let him set his own schedule in a return from the quadricep tendon issue that cost him the previous season (and, ultimately, helped ruin his relationship with the Spurs). Leonard played in just 60 regular season game — and it worked. He was a force in the playoffs, leading Toronto to its first-ever title and winning Finals MVP again.

So the Clippers are going to follow that same script, right? Nope. Expect to see more Leonard, according to Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times.

There are likely a couple of reasons for this. One is that Leonard may be feeling a little healthier and that he can take on more now. With a deep Clippers roster (especially once Paul George returns from his shoulder surgeries) it’s also possible the Clippers can limit Leonard’s in-game minutes, he averaged 34 a game when he played, which was top 20 in the league.

The bigger factor is the West is so deep with good teams the Clippers simply can’t have him sit as much and still get a good seed. Toronto could let Leonard rest and still won 58 games and had the two seed. That’s not how the West — with the Lakers, Rockets, Jazz, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Warriors — is going to go. The Clippers are going to need Leonard to win games most nights, and they certainly want to get a top-four seed and be home to start the postseason.

Leonard may play more early in the season and get more rest on the back half, once George returns to form and takes over some of the load on the wing. But he’s going to play.

The Clippers simply need him.