Earlier today, Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news that All-Star wing Paul George has informed the Indiana Pacers that he will leave the team in free agency next summer, and that his preferred destination will be the Los Angeles Lakers:
Sources: All-Star Paul George tells Pacers he plans to leave franchise in 2018 free agency, prefers Lakers. https://t.co/anP4bvbwir— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) June 18, 2017
This puts the Pacers in a precarious situation: if they choose to keep George, they’ll likely lose him for nothing. On the other hand, the Lakers are unlikely to put forth a substantial offer because they believe that they can simply sign George next summer without losing any assets. Most other teams are in the same boat—they won’t want to give up prospects or picks for a rental.
That leaves just a small group of teams that might be willing to consider giving something up for George: contenders who both believe that he will help push their team to the next level, and that one year of success will convince George to re-sign long-term next summer. One such team could be the L.A. Clippers. Per Woj, Indiana has already begun engaging teams on the “rental market”:
Sources: Indiana's Kevin Pritchard engaging teams on trading Paul George, but so far, not Lakers. There's a rental market, but how robust? https://t.co/oM9XrATMr9— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) June 18, 2017
The Clippers (shockingly) don’t have tons of assets to pull off such a trade, even with George’s reduced value. They certainly wouldn’t be able to put together a fair value offer for George, but the circumstances may have opened a door.
With Paul, Griffin, and Redick entering free agency, the Clippers don’t have a lot to offer. Their only roster piece with significant value is All-NBA center DeAndre Jordan. It actually seems reasonable, in this scenario, that Jordan would be enough to make this happen. Unfortunately, the Pacers seem unlikely to have interest. They’ll be starting a rebuild post-George, and their main building block is 21-year-old center Myles Turner. Adding a 29-year-old center on a one-year deal would be simply unappealing.
The value is there, but the fit isn’t. That means it’s time to dive down the rabbit hole of NBA fandom: three-team trade scenarios.
Reports have indicated that the Phoenix Suns could be involved in talks to facilitate a George deal, and they make some intriguing sense for the Clippers. Phoenix owns the 4th overall pick, which would be a great return for the Pacers to begin their rebuild with. The Suns also have Tyson Chandler, a suitable downgrade at center to replace Jordan on the Clippers. Chandler, who is already 34 and owed $26.6 million over the next two season, is nothing more than a salary dump for the Suns. For the Clippers, however, he is a former Chris Paul teammate who plays a similar style to Jordan.
While Phoenix’s cooperation would be nice, it just doesn’t seem like this deal is an acceptable outcome for them. Shedding Chandler’s contract is nice, but as one of the worst teams in the league, they would be foolish to deal the 4th overall pick for a 29-year-old center who would likely leave in free agency after one year.
This isn’t to say that DeAndre Jordan doesn’t have value—just that his value varies from team to team. The Pacers and Suns are two teams that have practically no use for Jordan. Keeping in mind that any Jordan deal should land the Clippers a top-10 pick to then give to the Pacers, the field of teams to choose from is limited. The Celtics are a good team that could use Jordan, but if they’re unwilling to rent George, they wouldn’t want to rent Jordan—and the third pick is more valuable than DJ. The Dallas Mavericks are always seeking to quickly re-load instead of start over, but that relationship has obviously soured.
Who else in the top 10 would have interest in Jordan (and a realistic shot at re-signing him)? The Minnesota Timberwolves. They’re a rising team with a defensive-minded coach (Tom Thibodeau) and a star big in Karl-Anthony Towns who would benefit from a veteran center to help with defense, rebounding, and match-ups against bigger, bruising post players. Plus, they have the talent on the roster to make a playoff push and give themselves a shot at retaining Jordan next summer.
Here’s my convoluted idea: the Clippers move Jordan to the Timberwolves for Cole Aldrich and the 7th overall pick. This would give them a rather large trade exception for the difference between Jordan and Aldrich’s salary, which they could then use to absorb Tyson Chandler in a salary dump (it could also all be done at once in a three-team trade). To add guard depth, the Clippers could also give the Suns Jamal Crawford for Brandon Knight. After a bad season and facing Knight’s large contract and a logjam at guard, the Suns are looking to get rid of Knight.
This would set the Clippers up with the 7th overall pick to use as the centerpiece of a George package, and Tyson Chandler and Cole Aldrich to play the center position as Jordan replacements. A package of Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson, and the 7th pick would make salaries match for George to return to the Clippers, and allow the Pacers to select a coveted prospect to pair with Myles Turner. At the 7th pick, Indiana would be able to select among forwards like Jonathan Isaac and Lauri Markkanen, or guards Malik Monk and Dennis Smith Jr.
Would a top-10 pick and Austin Rivers be enough for the Pacers? Maybe the Clippers would have to include a future first-round pick, or perhaps they’ll need to find a workable deal with a different team to provide a better pick in this year’s draft.
Still, this is one way that some creativity could revamp the Clippers’ roster this summer.