Most teams see the trade deadline as a significant date during the NBA season. This is the point when teams should know whether they are buyers or sellers, and recognize where they are in the season’s hierarchy. Few teams approach the trade deadline unsure if they need to make a move or stand pat. The Los Angeles Clippers fit into that category.
The Clippers are, and have been, one of the better teams in the league all season. They lead the Pacific Division by four and a half games as of January, 29th, and sit fourth place in the Western Conference. They certainly could add a piece or two at the deadline, but at what cost? Who would they need to trade? More importantly, who would they be willing to trade?
The question is an important one, because one wrong move could alter the team’s chemistry. Would Doc Rivers really move Jamal Crawford or Jared Dudley to improve the team’s post depth? Do the Clippers want to give up Reggie Bullock for a piece that may be more valuable this season, but has less value in the future?
These are some serious questions, but certainly ones that likely have been pondered by the Clippers’ executives.
What Does the Team Need?
There is no secret here, the Clippers have desperately needed frontcourt help for the past few seasons and that has not changed. Behind Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the team has severely lacked anyone who can come in and play adequate minutes since Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans left the team over two seasons ago.
Despite their improvements on both ends of the court, Griffin and Jordan could both benefit from another player who can play effectively next to each of them. Actually, the entire roster could benefit from another adequate big, on both sides of the floor, in the rotation. According to Basketball-Reference, other than Griffin and Jordan, no power forward or center on the roster has a PER over 15.0—league average.
Furthermore, the Clippers could also use another perimeter defender, preferably one that is long and can defend the likes of Rudy Gay, Kevin Durant and James Harden. The team has done a good job as a whole defensively, ranking eighth in the league in points allowed per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com. However, Jared Dudley has been battling knee tendinitis all season, Matt Barnes has been inconsistent and Reggie Bullock has been unable to break into the rotation.
Regardless, the Clippers desperately need another big to add to the rotation, and another perimeter defender would be more of a luxury than a need. That speaks more to the completeness of the Clippers’ perimeter rotation, plus adding another perimeter player would probably mean dealing a player in the rotation or Reggie Bullock. Bullock fits exactly what the Clippers need from a perimeter player, but does not look ready to fill that role this season, so it would be difficult for the team to trade a young asset like Bullock unless it was for help in the paint.
Salary Cap and Luxury Tax Situation
There are a few possibilities to consider as the trade deadline approaches. Will the Clippers be buyers, sellers or sit even? The salary cap this season is set at $58.7 million with the luxury tax set at $71.7 million. The Clippers’ team salaries total $73.74 million, just slightly over the luxury tax. This could create some interesting proposals as the deadline nears.
The Clippers rarely ever pay the luxury tax, although they also have not been considered title contenders in quite some time. Will Donald Sterling agree to pay the tax bill this season or will he require the front office to make a move to dip under the luxury tax? Should management identify a trade to improve the team, will Sterling approve?
Dropping below the luxury tax could be accomplished by moving only one player, albeit a meaningful one. Jared Dudley and Matt Barnes both make slightly over the $2 million required to dodge paying the tax. Barnes’ contract would be the one moved the easiest, as he only has one year remaining with a unguaranteed year following.
Besides Dudley and Barnes, the next level would be to combine multiple players with Reggie Bullock or dealing the offensively gifted Jamal Crawford. Depending on the return, both players could seemingly be available. However, it seems likely the team would attempt to move Bullock in a package before Crawford.
Regardless, the Clippers have multiple directions to consider, especially if paying the luxury tax is not an option. Should Sterling approve paying the luxury tax, the Clippers could focus on improving the roster.
There seems to be no easy solution one way or another, especially considering the Clippers would need to disrupt their chemistry in order to add another piece. There is also no way to tell whether or not Sterling is willing to pay the luxury tax. More importantly, who would the team be able to trade without losing a vital cog in their rotation or future?
The simple answer here would be to stand pat. The Clippers signed Hedo Turkoglu for the remainder of the season, but also have one open roster spot. Unless management is willing to move Jamal Crawford, they likely will not be able to bring back the frontcourt piece necessary to put them over the top. So where should the focus turn next?
Once the trade deadline has passed there are certain to be veterans who will be waived. This is the Clippers’ best opportunity to improve the team, patch a needed hole and not trade away a player in the rotation. Plenty of names will pop up, especially veterans included in trades as salary cap fillers.
Finally, Andrew Bynum is still on the market. While he may not be the best fit for any team in the league, based on his attitude, the Clippers certainly could use his scoring in the paint. Regardless, there will be plenty of options that pop up in the next month. To answer the initial question, no, the Clippers do not need to make a trade before the deadline. Only time will tell if they feel the same.