As late as the morning of the NBA Trade deadline a week ago, I continued to hear from sources what other reporters had said for days — the Cavaliers were still in serious talks with the Los Angeles Clippers about bringing in DeAndre Jordan, and the sides were trying to find a third team to make it work. It made sense. Cleveland needed a roster shakeup to inject energy into a stale lineup, they needed defense, and Jordan would bring both. He was the biggest name on the board.
However, by the end of that fateful Thursday Jordan was still a Clipper and Cavaliers GM Koby Altman had gone to three other trades — ones with the Lakers, Jazz, Kings, and Heat — to blow up a stale roster and get it younger and more athletic. It was a bold stroke that so far has paid off with an energized LeBron James and a couple of quality wins.
What’s more, there was significant progress: Altman had ownership approval to send the Clippers Jae Crowder, Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert and the Cavs’ 2018 first-round pick for Jordan. The Clippers were willing to accept the trade, but on one significant condition.
Clippers general manager Michael Winger explained to Altman that LA didn’t want another shooting guard. He hoped to find a third team that would take Shumpert and his $21 million with draft compensation, and have the Clippers get a center back. Altman and Winger agreed to make more calls to try to find a third team to make the deal work. Winger wondered whether Altman would let him talk to Shumpert’s agent on a possible contract buyout, but Altman wanted trade talks to be further along before granting that permission.
Clippers president Lawrence Frank, Winger and Altman had talked for weeks on a trade, but they got nowhere. The Clippers wouldn’t take Tristan Thompson, JR Smith or Shumpert in a deal, and that never changed.
No third team could be found, and the Clippers fell out of the plans Thursday and the other trades that had been percolating in the background started to solidify. Cleveland went another direction.
In the end, it left the Clippers with Jordan and a legitimate chance to climb into the 7 or 8 seed in the West playoffs this season (fivethirtyeight.com says the Clippers have a 54 percent chance of getting into the postseason).
It also left the Clippers with a big question: What do they do about Jordan this summer when he hits free agency? Pay big money to keep him and put enough of a team around him to battle for a bottom half of the West playoff slot for years? Let him walk, trade Lou Williams, and rebuild? Owner Steve Ballmer doesn’t want to bottom out, so everything is on the table. If this trade had gone through, the decision would have been made.