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NBA Trade Deadline 2018: Are the Clippers Buyers or Sellers?

What direction will this team go?

Charlotte Hornets v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Every year, as the NBA’s trade deadline approaches, teams get grouped into two general categories: buyers and sellers. A “buyer” is a team that is looking to move some assets at the deadline to add a player to help in their playoff push; a “seller” is a lottery-bound team that’s looking to move veterans and expiring contracts with short-term utility for assets and prospects with long-term utility. During the Doc Rivers era, the Clippers have always been buyers, pulling off deals for guys like Nick Young and Jeff Green to, at least in theory, bolster their wing rotation in the postseason.

For the first time in years, there’s some question about the Clippers’ place at the deadline. A recent 11-3 hot streak has pulled LAC into the playoff picture, but they still are far away from contending this season, and they could still potentially end up in the lottery. With veterans DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams both on expiring deals and performing at a high level, the Clippers could probably recoup a nice collection of assets—but losing either would kill the team’s chances at a playoff appearance this year, as well as eliminate the possibility of re-signing either as a long-term building block.

This year’s deadline has the potential to be the most chaotic in Clippers history—but we could also see it pass without more than a few whispered rumors.

As part of an SBNation NBA series on the February 8th trade deadline, I’ll answer a few questions to prepare fans for the Clippers’ deadline activity. Be sure to check out Clips Nation’s sister sites for their teams’ outlooks.

1. With the trade deadline approaching, are the Clippers a “buyer” or a “seller?”

I’m going to take a middle route and say “neither.” I don’t think that the Clippers are in a position to sacrifice the long-term for the short-term as a “buyer.” There isn’t really a trade out there that puts them in the championship conversation this season, and they have a nice collection of young pieces that they won’t be eager to part with. They’re also reluctant to move future picks after several years of freely giving them away.

Still, I have a hard time believing that the Clippers are going to be “sellers.” Doc Rivers might not have as much influence in the organization as he once did, but he still has a voice, and he’s not one to give up short-term wins. The Clippers also face a unique marketing and branding challenge as they try to stay relevant in Los Angeles, so I have a hard time seeing them willingly break up a high-energy upstart playoff underdog.

That doesn’t mean that a trade won’t happen, though. I just don’t think it will be in the traditional buyer/seller mold that I outlined above. The names we’ll hear a lot in trade rumors during the next two weeks are expiring veterans DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams. Of the two, DeAndre is probably more likely to be moved. As far as we can tell, the Clippers would like to sign in-season extensions for both players, but there seems to be a better chance of retaining Williams at a reasonable price tag. Lou has also stated that he wants to re-sign with the Clippers and doesn’t want to be traded again—DeAndre has been relatively quiet. If the Clippers fear Jordan’s high free agency price tag, or him potentially walking in July, then a lot of mediocre offers begin to look a lot better.

2. What are the top tradable assets on your team’s roster and/or what players are untradable?

The two top movable pieces are clearly Jordan and Williams, as discussed above. Jordan is the defensive anchor and rim runner who we’ve all come to love. He doesn’t have as much trade value as he might normally have, due to his expiring contract, but he offers a ton of short-term value to any contender that can piece together a decent return package to match his $22 million salary. We’ll hear a lot about the Cleveland Cavaliers offering Tristan Thompson, and maybe the Nets’ first-round pick, but the Clippers are unlikely to want Thompson’s bloated contract.

Williams is a much easier piece to move because his $7 million price tag is easier for teams to absorb—and there isn’t a team in the NBA that couldn’t use Lou right now. He’s having the best season of his career, averaging 23 points and 5 assists at 31 years old, shooting 45% from the field and 42% from deep. Lou has won Western Conference Player of the Week twice in the last three weeks, and he’s actually beginning to get some All-Star chatter. Multiple teams will offer the Clippers a first-round pick for Lou’s services, but I expect them to hold on to him unless a truly ridiculous offer comes their way.

The Clippers will have a really rough time moving two of their forwards: Danilo Gallinari and Wesley Johnson. Gallinari is having a really rough first season in L.A., as he’s missed almost the entire year with two butt injuries. While he should still be a high-level player when he’s able to return to the court, his 3-year, $65 million contract was probably an overpay when his value was high last July. After his injury struggles, it might be at an all-time low, and it’s a big chunk of money blocking the Clippers’ long-term team-building.

A smaller cumbersome deal belongs to Wesley Johnson, who is making $5.8 million this season and $6.2 million next season. While Wesley certainly has his moments, he struggles to consistently play at the level of a rotation-caliber player. If his deal was expiring, he’d be pretty easy to move, but that player option means it would likely cost the Clippers a future first-round pick—a price they are not willing to pay. Johnson’s deal all but eliminates him as an option if the Clippers pursue some luxury tax savings at the deadline.

3. What holes do you think your team will try and fill at the deadline?

Honestly, I don’t think the Clippers are hunting to fill any holes at the deadline. If the move DeAndre Jordan, they’ll probably look for a SG/SF wing and a replacement center, but other than that, I don’t see them targeting players at a specific position. With the kind of production they’ve gotten from fringe roster players and two-way contract players, the Clippers don’t seem to have any major holes to fill right now.

4. What’s your “dream trade?”

For the Clippers, it’s probably the least sexy “dream” of any team in the NBA—just dumping Brice Johnson’s $1.3 million contract. The Clippers only have $120,000 of space beneath the luxury tax threshold, and they seem intent on avoiding paying the tax this season as they try to dodge the repeater tax.

Moving Brice’s deal would give the Clippers space beneath the tax to convert C.J. Williams’ two-way contract to a rest-of-season minimum-salary deal. They’d also have room to convert Tyrone Wallace’s deal, or pursue a veteran buyout player for their 15th roster spot. It might not be sexy, but moving Brice would allow the Clippers to turn one wasted roster spot into two useful players—that’s a win at the deadline.