We have our first significant trade of the deadline season, with the Clippers and Trail Blazers completing a five-player trade that looks like a steal for Los Angeles in terms of talent, but is a step down the road Portland wants to take.
Let’s break down the winners and losers from this trade. But first, here is the deal:
The Clippers receive: Norman Powell, Robert Covington
The Trail Blazers receive: Justise Winslow, Eric Bledsoe, Keon Johnson, Detroit’s 2025 second-round pick (the Clippers had the rights from the Luke Kennard trade)
WINNER: LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS… NEXT SEASON
Another smart move by the Lawrence Frank and the Clippers front office — and a move only a free-spending team like the Clippers under Steve Ballmer could make.
This is a trade all about next season, when Powell — a quality, switchable, two-way wing, averaging 18.7 points a game and shooting 40.6% from 3 this season — can be a sixth man and either fill in for or play behind a (hopefully) healthy Kawhi Leonard and Paul George (Tyronn Lue said again this week he doesn’t expect Leonard back this season). Don’t forget that Leonard and Powell have won a ring together before in Toronto. Powell is under contract for four more seasons after this one, and at starter-level money.
“Norm is a two-way player who can score from all three levels, spread the floor with his shooting and guard multiple positions with his length and versatility,” said Frank in a released statement. “He was part of a championship team in Toronto before joining the Blazers. Norm has SoCal roots, having grown up in San Diego and starred at UCLA, and we’re thrilled to bring him back.”
Most teams in the tax, like the Clippers, would have kept Bledsoe, who makes similar money to Powell but only has a $3.9 million guarantee next season, allowing them to trim costs going forward. Ballmer doesn’t care, he can add to the payroll as he did here and keep rolling along.
Covington has taken a step back in Portland this season but is still a solid defender and role player. He is a free agent this summer but the Clippers now have his Bird rights and can re-sign him if they wish.
Both Powell and Covington also fit and help a gritty Clippers team this season, a team hanging around .500 and likely headed to the play-in. Even without their stars.
WINNER: NORMAN POWELL
Want to play for a contender again? Wait until next year, when the Clippers — at least on paper — will be one of the favorites in the West (it’s all about health with this team). Powell will have a significant role, whether starting or as a sixth man, and should fit in beautifully with this roster.
As noted by Frank, Powell also gets to come home to Southern California, where he grew up and be close to family and friends.
LOSER: ERIC BLEDSOE
Mostly this is a financial loss for Bledsoe, who is under contract for $19.4 million next season but hasn’t played near that level for the Clippers. He has a $3.9 million buyout; you can bet the Trail Blazers will use it to free up money for next season.
He will be an unrestricted free agent after the buyout and there likely will be interest in him by several teams looking for point guard depth, but for much less money than he is making now.
WINNER: Anfernee Simons
Simons is having a breakout season in Portland in his fourth year, averaging 15.7 points a game and shooting 39.6% from 3. The way he has grabbed his opportunity this season is the silver lining on the storm clouds of this season in Portland.
This trade shows they are betting on Simons, trading away the other 6’3″ wing in Powell who could eat up his minutes. This offseason the Blazers will bet big again on Simons when he comes up as a restricted free agent — the man is about to get paid.
ASK AGAIN LATER: PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
This trade accomplished one thing the Trail Blazers wanted: It got them under the luxury tax. Ownership understandably didn’t want to pay the tax for this team this season, and by getting under that number, not only do they not pay the tax, they also get some of the tax windfall payout from teams over the tax (the money teams over the tax line pay is divided among the teams under the tax line). Financially, this was a good move for Portland.
Keon Johnson is also a good roll of the dice for the Blazers. He’s a divisive young prospect — an incredible athlete who set an NBA Draft Combine record with a 48-inch vertical leap, but who is very, very raw on offense — and this gives Chauncey Billups and staff a chance to see if they can develop him.
On the court… it depends on what follows. This was just the first domino. Trade rumors are swirling around the league about CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, one or both of them could be on the move. Interim GM Joe Cronin is talking to Lillard, and they want to retool this roster around him into something that can compete with the best teams in the West. There’s a long way to go, but this trade will allow Portland to pay Simons next summer and still have their mid-level exception to go get a player that fits with Lillard.
Other moves are coming, it’s too early to judge on just this one trade — even if they gave up the best player in the deal. This could be the first step toward an impressive roster remake, but we need to see things play out before making a call.