The Clippers are walking a tightrope heading into the Feb. 7 trade deadline.
They are currently tied for the seven/eight seed in the West and want to stay in the playoffs. They could use some reinforcements to bolster that effort, just 3.5 games separate seeds six and 11 in the West. The Clippers may want to add a player who can help them make a playoff push.
On the other side, the Clippers will be major players next summer in free agency, with enough cap space for one max contract player and, with some maneuvering, two. There have been strong links reported between the Clippers and both Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant (the Clippers are nearly stocking Leonard this season with their staff). The Clippers do not want to make a deadline trade move that messes with that cap space.
What will they do?
Be careful but look for trades that work, coach Doc Rivers told Jovan Buha of The Athletic.
“It’s a lot that goes in it,” Doc Rivers said about the trade deadline. “It’s easier when you think you have a shot to win it. Then it’s an easy move. If there’s a move to make your team or put your team over the hump, those are easy.
“Where we’re at, you have to be very careful with anything you do because anything that puts money on your cap and all that, it’s probably a bad move in some ways. Unless you think it’s a longtime guy. Every team has their own stuff. It’s different for everyone.”
The Clippers could trade or, barring that, buyout third point guard Milos Teodosic (if he takes enough of a discount).
Beyond that, the Clippers have a lot of expiring contracts that could interest other playoff teams, but the Clippers are not just dumping them for picks or taking on additional salary.
Otherwise, the Clippers are not actively shopping any of their expiring deals that could have value to the numerous teams pursuing a playoff spot — Patrick Beverley, Marcin Gortat, Boban Marjanovic, Luc Mbah a Moute, Mike Scott and Avery Bradley ($2 million partial guarantee for 2019-20). It is also unclear what each player’s respective trade value is currently, as all six players have endured up-and-down seasons (more down for Mbah a Moute, who has missed 44 of 48 games with a sore left knee).
The Clippers caution speaks to this entire trade market. The Clippers are in too good a position to just be sellers, but they are not aggressive buyers either because there is not that much of an advantage in the short term. There are a lot of teams that before the season were expected to be sellers who find themselves in the playoff mix and debating whether they should go for it (Brooklyn is at the top of that list, they will go for it, and then there are bubble teams like Orlando).
There are a lot of buyers but teams don’t want to give up picks/young players, and they don’t want to take on bad salaries. Which limits the market.
It’s likely going to be a quiet trade deadline, with some smaller moves (Jeremy Lin or Kent Bazemore may be the biggest names traded), but then a very robust buyout market. Then again, this league has a way of surprising.