It wasn’t too long ago when a huge chunk of Clipper nation was ready to throw in the towel on the 2017-18 season. The endless flood of injuries to key players combined with an 11-18 start had most thinking that the Clippers were lottery-bound. Of course, things have shifted dramatically over the last few weeks. The Clips are currently riding a six-game winning streak, and they’re holding down the No. 8 seed in the west heading into Friday night’s action.
Talk of being sellers at the upcoming trade deadline has cooled since the team got hot, but Marc Stein of the New York Times reported late Friday that the Cleveland Cavaliers are “pursuing” a deal for DeAndre Jordan.
Earlier in the afternoon, Shams Charania reported that the Cavs are also interested in Kings guard George Hill. Stein says Cleveland is currently exploring separate deals rather than a three-way scenario in which both Jordan and Hill wind up going east.
Stein added that the Cavs have also kicked the tires on the Clippers’ interest in parting ways with (hopeful) All-Star and (definite) league MVP Lou Williams. He says the Cavs have floated names like Tristan Thompson (puke) and J.R. Smith (barf) in an effort to land Williams.
Would Thompson thrive with a change of scenery? Perhaps, but he has shown little to indicate he’s much more than just an expensive, way less athletic and worse version of D.J. He’s on the books for nearly $40 million for two seasons after this one. Smith, meanwhile, is mired in a miserable statistical season, and he’s owed nearly $30 million over the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons combined. The Clippers would have little use for an expensive 32-year-old that appears to be in rapid decline. Of course, these two may have to be in any deal in order to facilitate Jordan’s massive salary going back the other way.
However, if the Cavs were to throw in the Nets’ first-round draft pick they got from the Celtics as a part of the Kyrie Irving trade, perhaps the Clips would be more tempted to give up Jordan while absorbing an albatross contract like Smith’s. The Nets pick is going to be one of the more sought-after assets on the market over the next few weeks, and, obviously, the Clippers would do well to grab it.
On the flip side, trading Jordan, Williams or both would signal that the team is essentially willing to punt on the current season. If Williams in particular were to be dealt, the Clippers would plummet in the standings quickly. Is this coaching staff, front office and ownership willing to forego a potential playoff appearance in order to potentially chase a top-5 draft pick?
Then again, the draft pick is obviously a gamble. There’s no guarantee whatsoever that the pick winds up in the top-5 and turns into someone like Luka Doncic, Trae Young or Marvin Bagley. Heading into Friday, the Nets are tied with the Suns for the seventh-worst record in the league. That’s still only about three games “ahead” of the Magic for the league’s worst record, but the Nets aren’t as bad as they’ve been over the last few years. As a result, the pick may not be what it seems.
That’s a tough sell, especially for a coach like Doc Rivers who has bristled at the idea of coaching a rebuilding squad in the past. Steve Ballmer seems to be as aggressive an owner as you’ll find in the league, but it’s hard to imagine he’d be willing to tank at this point, even if the alternative is a (likely) quick first-round ouster at the hands of the Warriors.
Then again, both Jordan and Williams are likely to be free agents next summer. The Clips have reportedly explored a contract extension for Lou, but committing big money to a 31-year-old currently in his 13th season is something of a sticky wicket. You also have to wonder whether the Clippers want to lock themselves in to the next few seasons of Jordan at hefty salary, too. Selling one (or both) beforehand saves LAC from risking losing both for nothing in the summer.
It’ll be interesting to see where, if anywhere, this goes. It sounds as though these are just exploratory talks on the Cavs’ part. We have no indication one way or the other that the Clippers would even listen to what Cleveland wants to sell, or whether either Williams or Jordan is even available at this point.
Outside of LeBron freaking James or the aforementioned draft pick, there isn’t a whole lot on the Cleveland roster that would look all that tempting to the Clippers.