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.

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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 says Paul George will be out for the first 10 games

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We are expecting not to see Paul George on the court with Kawhi Leonard in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform until November. But until this week, we didn’t have a good idea about when George could return over the course of the next month.

Speaking to reporters this week, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers let it slip that George could miss up to the first 10 games of the regular season. That would put George at a tentative return date of Nov. 13 against the Houston Rockets.

Via Twitter:

The Clippers are still expected to be one of the best teams in the NBA, and the real question heading into the first several weeks of the season will be how much they allow Leonard to sit out due to load management if George is not on the floor.

The real question in Los Angeles — on both sides of the hall at Staples Center — will be about health, and the Clippers know that it’s not how you start the season but how you finish. It seems likely they will wait until George is fully ready to return to action rather than rushing him back from dual shoulder surgery.

Kyle Kuzma reportedly cancelled plans to announce Chinese sponsorships

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Tensions are still high between the NBA and China, and both sides are hoping that things return to normal soon. Whether that’s possible is another thing altogether, particularly with how raw the response to the NBA has been by domestic fans concerned with the NBA sticking to its stated principles with regard to social justice.

This has affected not just the league, but players too. James Harden and Russell Westbrook were involved in an incident where an official shut down a legitimate question by a CNN reporter. Now it’s being reported that Los Angeles Lakers big man that Kyle Kuzma decided not to announce sponsorship deals with Chinese companies during his team’s visit to the continent this month.

Via Bill Oram:

Kuzma’s plans to announce additional sponsorship deals with Chinese companies were scrapped once the Lakers arrived on Tuesday and found themselves caught in the middle of a stalemate between the NBA and the Chinese government.

The whole story of what it was like to cover the trip in China as an American is worth reading by Oram. It’s an interesting look at the collision of politics, business, and the perception of sports as separate from those spheres.

Meanwhile, players and their management teams will need to think more carefully about the social perception of business deals both at home and abroad.

Facilitator Kawhi Leonard in Clippers opener could be glimpse into season

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

LOS ANGELES — You could see the impact almost immediately.

In his first minutes in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform last Thursday against Denver, Kawhi Lenoard drained a 14-foot midrange shot, stole a Gary Harris pass and turned that into a step-back three-pointer. Five points and a steal, all in 21 seconds.

More importantly for the Clippers, you could hear the impact almost immediately, too.

Leonard was talking a lot on defense, directing players and making his presence heard. That has been the case in team practices as well, according to people with the Clippers.

“He’s more verbal than you would ever know,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s more demanding in a very positive way. You have to do it right. I love that for our team.”

Questions abound about how Leonard — and Paul George, when he returns at some point likely in November — will fit in with an established Clippers roster and culture this season. The Clippers on paper may be title favorites, but how all those pieces come together remains one of the potential turning points of this NBA season.

The cultural fit seems smooth.

Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell brought an intense, hard-working, tough-to-play-against ethos to Los Angeles — but Leonard and George are lunchpail guys at heart. The Clippers’ new editions may be top five (certainly top eight) NBA talents, but they came into the league seen as “3&D” guys with some potential. They worked their way to the top, and that works for the Clippers.

On the court — at least in the slightly more than 10 minutes he played against Denver — the roster fit also seemed smooth.

Leonard had seven points on 3-of-6 shooting, but what stood out were the six assists. Leonard played a facilitator role. The first bucket of the game was a Leonard drive-and-kick to JaMychal Green in the corner, who hit the three. Leonard’s other assists were mostly to bigs Ivica Zubac and Harrell cutting to the basket.

Doc Rivers’ plan is to let Leonard feel how other teams are going to guard him, them adapt.

“Some teams will try to guard him one-on-one and he’ll probably try to score,” Rivers said. “Some teams, like Denver today, was up doubling him a lot, and he’ll be a facilitator…

“That’s what Kawhi does, it’s not like we’re recreating anything here. He’s a smart player. We’re going to try and keep as much shooting out with him, so teams can’t help. We will try to keep one roller on the floor with him, so that guy’s going down the middle of the paint and he’s creating help. We don’t have to make it that difficult.”

“He found me every time I was open,” Zubac said. “I really like playing with him.”

This was not by direct design so much as Leonard taking what the defense gave him.

“It just happened naturally,” Leonard said. “For the most part I cause a lot of attention, and I’m going to pass it to the open man. They was knocking down the shots tonight.”

We will see more of “facilitator Leonard” this season, and facilitator George as well. That Rivers wants to keep shooters on the court around his stars speaks to what a vital role Green and second-year guard Landry Shamet will play in Los Angeles — they are going to get opportunities and have to make the defense pay. (Shamet had 11 points against Denver and was 2-of-5 from three.)

Then off the bench, Los Angeles rolls out the best pick-and-roll combo in the league right now, Lou Williams and Harrell. Those two drove the Clippers offense last season, which is why both finished in the top three in Sixth Man of the Year voting, but this season there will be less pressure on them. They may not even close games, even though Williams is one of the better end-game bucket getters in the league.

The Clippers are that deep with talent.

Leonard showed already how he just makes the game easier for that talent. Zubac setting picks for Leonard and rolling, with shooters on the floor, is not going to be easy to stop — and that’s without George in the mix yet.

It’s more than the Xs and Os, however, Leonard and his rings just bring a gravitas to the Clippers they needed.

“He has a presence about him when he is on the floor, just feels a little different, how he carries himself, how he plays,” Shamet said.

That presence could carry the Clippers franchise to places it has never been before. It’s the impact the Clippers are ultimately hoping to see.

Cavaliers visit owner Dan Gilbert, recovering from stroke

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CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cleveland Cavaliers visited team owner Dan Gilbert, who is recovering at home after suffering a stroke in May.

After playing an exhibition game in Detroit on Friday night, the Cavs delayed their trip to Boston so they could spend time Saturday with the 57-year-old Gilbert.

He recently returned to his home in Franklin, Michigan, after staying at a rehabilitation facility in Illinois. Gilbert suffered a stroke on May 26 after being taken to a hospital by a family friend following stroke-like experiencing symptoms.

All of Cleveland’s players, along with first-year coach John Beilein and his staff, held a film session and short walk-through on a replica basketball court Gilbert has at his home before having lunch. Gilbert and his wife, Jennifer, spoke with many of the players.

The Cavs play their third preseason game Sunday against the Celtics.

Gilbert has owned Cleveland’s franchise since 2005.=