According to Ken Berger (see below), the Los Angeles Clippers are considering a trade that would send guard Eric Bledsoe and forward Ryan Gomes to the Portland Trail Blazers for guard Jamal Crawford. A version of this rumor has already circulated a couple of times, but this one seems to have a new twist.
The principals in the deal are Crawford and Bledsoe. Crawford signed a two year deal with the Blazers this summer, with the second year being a player option. With the Blazers sitting at 20-21 on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, with only 6 wins in their last 17 games, Portland has apparently decided that the Crawford gambit did not pay off. Meanwhile, Crawford is equally disenchanted with Portland and is apparently planning to opt out of his second season, meaning the Blazers will lose him for nothing if they don't deal him by Thursday's trade deadline. So it would seem that Crawford is on his way out of Portland. Bledsoe meanwhile is a promising second year guard who has missed most of this season following knee surgery in the fall. He was Second Team All Rookie last year, and has only recently begun contributing this season.
When Crawford rumors first surfaced, it was reported (also by Berger) that the Blazers were adamant about receiving a first round pick in return. In fact, it was said that the Blazers had discussed a deal with the Clippers, but wanted Bledsoe AND a first rounder. Well, the Clippers don't have one of those to offer either this season or next, and even after that it remains complicated because of restrictions on the pick their 2012 pick which is owned by Boston. The bottom line is, the earliest first rounder the Clippers could include would be in 2014, and after trading away three first rounders in the past 21 months, the Clippers are loathe to trade another one.
They're loathe to trade Bledsoe as well, particularly now that he has begun to provide a potentially game-changing defensive presence off the bench. But Crawford is a tempting target, as he seems to fill a specific need of the Clippers for a big shooting guard. At 6'5" with the ability to get his own shot and to score in bunches, in some ways Crawford is an ideal fit.
But in other ways he's badly mismatched. The Clippers have the league's fourth rated offense and 21st rated defense -- Crawford "fits the suit" of the big guard, but he's an inefficient scorer with a reputation as a very poor defender. It's hard to imagine how he fixes or even improves the Clippers defensive problems. Crawford has also thrived in recent years coming off the bench in the instant-offense role (even winning a Sixth Man Award in 2010) -- which is a slot currently occupied ably by Mo Williams. So while on the surface the fit may seem right, if you look a little deeper there's quite a bit of tailoring necessary.
The rumor de jour is particularly interesting if you view it and the earlier rumors in context together (and if you take them at face value, which isn't always the best practice it should be noted). Apparently the Blazers are considering this deal without a first round pick while also picking up the dead weight contract of Ryan Gomes, who still has another season at $4M on his contract. Gomes has a PER below 5 this season and recently lost his spot in the Clippers rotation to Bobby Simmons, who was called up from the D-League on a 10 day contract. The implication is that the price for Crawford may be going down as the deadline approaches. The chance to dump Gomes' contract certainly sweetens the pot for the Clippers.
But they remain hesitant to move Bledsoe. On a team utterly lacking in above average individual defenders, Bledsoe has been a game-changer off the bench recently with his high-energy defense. Sunday night against Golden State, he was integral in the Clippers comeback from a 21 point second half deficit, basically taking Monta Ellis completely out of the game. In some ways, Bledsoe is exactly the player the Clippers need -- a shut down wing defender. Unfortunately, he's just not big enough at 6'0" to play that role against the bigger shooting guards in the league (though I'd kind of like to watch him try).
So the Clippers may be facing a choice between to imperfect solutions. They need a big, defensive minded guard. They have a choice here between a scoring guard in a big guard's body and a defensive guard in a small guard's body. Then of course there are the future considerations -- this could end up being just a two month rental on Crawford, while Bledsoe is one of only a very few Clippers signed beyond next season, and the only making less than $8M per season.
Can LA afford to give up a young, inexpensive part of their future, for a rental on a player that's not a particularly good fit for their needs beyond the eye test?