The Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Clippers have the opportunity to help each other out.
The Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Clippers have been discussing the possibility of completing a trade headlined by Magic shooting guard Arron Afflalo and prized L.A. point guard Eric Bledsoe in conjunction with Thursday's NBA draft, according to sources close to the process.
Sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday that a trade with those two players as the principals could happen as soon as this week and potentially could be expanded to include Magic forward Andrew Nicholson and a future first-round pick as compensation for the highly coveted Bledsoe.
Though nothing appears imminent, both sides have proper motivation to push the deal forward.
Los Angeles needs to capitalize off Bledsoe's value now if it isn't going to sign him to an extension. The Clippers could also use some added offensive depth on the perimeter to help lighten the load Chris Paul has to carry.
For the Magic, they need to further their rebuild. They have a vast array of talented young assets already on the docket, but they still need their point guard of the future.
Enter Bledsoe. And this deal, which stands to aid in the advancement of all parties involved.
Jameer Nelson isn't going to be around forever. Bledsoe would serve as a spectacular replacement, someone who could start immediately.
Bledsoe has spent the last three seasons with the Clippers, the latter of which was his coming-out party.
In 20.4 minutes per game, Bledsoe averaged 8.5 points, three rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.4 steals. Extrapolated, that becomes 14.9 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.5 steals per 36 minutes. Those numbers may not seem impressive initially, but that statistical effort has only been matched 35 times in league history.
Just as impressive as his per-36-minute averages was his overall improvement in every aspect of the game. During his time on the floor, Bledsoe held opposing point guards to a below-average PER of 14.9 according to 82games.com, no small feat considering he stands at a diminutive 6'1". After shooting no better than 27.6 percent from beyond the arc through his first two seasons, Bledsoe bolstered his three-point clip to 39.7 as well.
Some would point to his limited playing time as an essential mirage. Short bursts of excellence are more attainable than sustaining long-term success after all. Yet, while that's true, the fact that Bledsoe was even able to distinguish himself at all is incredible.
Paul is the best point guard in the league, the one in whom the Clippers have invested everything. Playing behind him isn't a glorified job or even an easy task. Opportunities to prove yourself are restricted and thus can come few and far between.
Ask Jarrett Jack about his short stint behind Paul with the New Orleans Hornets; he'll tell you. So will Bledsoe. And even Paul himself.
Bledsoe managed to do a lot given awfully little. Ceding minutes to a guy like Paul can often be construed as the ideal situation, and for certain players it is. But Bledsoe's different. He hasn't hit his ceiling yet, and his development could have been potentially hindered by the time he spent riding the bench.
It wasn't. He made the most of his burn, something Paul himself also admitted.
"Bled is one of the best guards in our league," Paul said earlier in the year following a Clippers practice, according to Arash Markazi of ESPN.com. "I've said it all season long. I'm enjoying playing with him right now because there's no way he can be here next year because we probably won't have enough money to pay him.
"He should be a starting point guard in this league next year."
Garnering the respect of the league's best point guard is serious recognition; that Paul believes Bledsoe should be a starter is even more astounding. In Los Angeles, it's also a pipe dream. With the Magic, it wouldn't be.
Unless Paul leaves during free agency (he won't), Bledsoe won't be starting (though Doc Rivers could run a hybrid guard lineup if he wished). Orlando, however, has a need for a starting point guard as it continues its youth movement.
At 31, Nelson isn't the future. And if his 39.2 percent conversion from last season is any indication of what's to come, the Magic don't want him to be.
Bledsoe can immediately jump into the starting lineup and grow alongside Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris and whomever else the Magic land in this year's draft. For both him and the Magic, it's the ideal situation.
If all the Magic have to do is relinquish Andrew Nicholson, Afflalo and a future first-rounder and take back first-quarter hero Caron Butler to make it happen, then there's no reason they shouldn't do so.
Los Angeles Clippers
Let me go on the record as saying that under different circumstances, I believe the Clippers could net a better return in any deal involving Bledsoe.
As talented as Bledsoe is, he could be paired with, say, Blake Griffin and traded for a superstar like Dwight Howard. Unfortunately, I don't envision Clippers owner Donald Sterling dealing Griffin (or wanting to pay Howard more than him) nor do I see the Los Angeles Lakers coming to terms with doing business with an in-house rival.
That said, seeing the Clippers retain Bledsoe in hopes of landing something better (like Howard) or hoping that he can become a more athletically inclined version of Chauncey Billups in the starting lineup isn't out of the question.
Per Stein, Shelburne and Ford, newly instated head coach Rivers is a fan of Bledsoe, which could prolong any and all negotiations until at least July.
Assuming Griffin is untouchable or a player like Howard isn't obtainable, securing a return of Afflalo would be instrumental in the Clippers' quest for a title.
Afflalo is owed approximately $23 million over the next three years, a very reasonable number considering what he can do and that the Clippers paid a far more limited Butler $8 million this past year.
Last season, Afflalo averaged a career-high 16.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game with the Magic. He (finally) proved capable of being a No. 1 perimeter scoring option and played impeccable defense as well.
Los Angeles needs that. All of it.
Thus far, the Clippers have been missing that No. 1 perimeter scoring option. Paul has always been a pass-first, look-for-his-own-offense-later floor general, and Butler and Billups never really lived up to the expectations set for them.
The Clippers could also use Afflalo's three-point shooting. They finished a mediocre 15th in the NBA with a 35.8 percent clip from downtown in 2012-13, and though Afflalo connected on just 30 percent of his deep balls last year, he's a 38.3 percent distant shooter for his career. Throw in the combined average 12.9 PER he held opposing point guards, shooting guards and small forwards to on the defensive end, and he's a perimeter gem (with quicker lateral movements than he's given credit for).
Don't sleep on the Andrew Nicholson acquisition either. He averaged 16.9 points and 7.4 rebounds per 36 minutes during his rookie season. His shot-blocking and transitional offense need tweaking, but he's far more competent in the post than DeAndre Jordan. He could immediately be used as a backup center or power forward and could perhaps serve as an interior pillar for the future.
Finally, that future first-round pick has to have some appeal. Orlando isn't going to become a contender overnight, and depending on how protected (or unprotected) it is, the Clippers could be looking at a relatively high draft pick in what they hope will be a stronger pool of talent than this year's crop has to offer.
Not that parting ways with Bledsoe for all of this will be easy, because it won't. He's too talented to want to trade, but the way the Clippers are constructed, they may have no choice. I don't care how reinvented Sterling is supposed to be now, a team owned by him is not paying big money to a backup point guard.
Faced with the prospect of losing him for nothing in restricted free agency next summer (if they don't sign him to an extension by Halloween), the Clippers need to capitalize off his value now. Trading for Afflalo and Nicholson (and a first-rounder) allows them to do just that.