According to reporting by ESPN’s Zach Lowe, we can add the Washington Wizards to the list of teams interested in Clippers’ center DeAndre Jordan as this week’s trade deadline approaches.
The Wizards have investigated the market for Jordan without gaining any traction, sources say.
Lowe also notes that the Blazers, another team that had poked around Jordan, has “backed off.”
As Lowe clearly states, the Wizards don’t seem to have gotten far in their Jordan inquiry. Similarly, Cleveland’s hilarious offer of Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, and the Cavalier’s own 2018 1st round pick is a non-starter for the Clippers. We haven’t heard a ton about if talks have progressed with the Milwaukee Bucks, who Lowe lists as a potential Jordan suitor, but as I outlined yesterday, it’s tough to find a workable deal. Lastly, Lowe mentions the Houston Rockets, who would like to reunite Jordan with Chris Paul. But he says that the Rockets’ interest may have cooled as Clint Capela’s emergence left them without as serious a need at the center position—and even if the Rockets are interested, they don’t have the contracts to put together a return package that doesn’t feature the long-term money that the Clippers are looking to avoid.
Let’s turn back to the Wizards’ interest, which, despite the reported lack of traction, is compelling. As Lowe notes, the Wizards certainly have the pieces to make a competitive offer for Jordan: Marcin Gortat, Kelly Oubre, Jr., Jason Smith, and a 2018 1st round pick pretty much meet everything on LAC’s wish list. Gortat and Smith aren’t expiring, but they each only have one additional year on their contract. Gortat would be the Clippers’ starting center for the remainder of this season and the 2018-19 season before coming off of the books in time for the summer of 2019. Smith isn’t as relevant, but his contract is needed for salary-matching. The worst-case is that he’d make $5.5 million from L.A. next season, which is certainly palatable, but’s it’s also possible that a bad team with cap room would be willing to eat his contract for a second round pick (possibly two).
The core value of the trade, though, comes with Oubre and the pick, the combination of a promising young player and 1st rounder that the Clippers are reportedly seeking. Oubre has broken out here in his third season, averaging 11.8 points and 4.6 rebounds off of the bench for the Wizards while notably improving his three-point shooting to an impressive 38.5% on 4.2 attempts per game. He’s playing a big role for the Wizards, and he’s only 22 years old with one year remaining at $3.2 million. In the summer of 2019, he’d be a restricted free agent with a $4.5 million qualifying offer, which would provide the Clippers with an ideal opportunity to use their cap space on free agents before exceeding the cap to re-sign Oubre. In the short-term, he’d play tons of backup forward minutes behind Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris, but in the long-term, it’s easy to envision him and Harris starting alongside each other for years to come. While Washington’s pick isn’t super valuable (it’ll likely be in the mid-20s, especially if DJ helps them rise in the standings), it provides the Clippers with another asset heading into this year’s draft, where they’ll already have two picks in the teens.
Frankly, a trade that nets the Clippers Gortat, Oubre, and a pick is too good to pass up. Unfortunately, that means that in order for Washington to not “gain any traction,” they must have not called with this offer. Of course, every report around trade deadline week needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Tons of things are leaked with an agenda as part of posturing in negotiations, and a lot of rumors don’t find their way to twitter until long after any real talks are dead.
In this case, it seems pretty likely that the Wizards called with a worse offer than what I just listed above, and the Clippers leaked the lack of traction in an effort to indicate to the league that there’s interest in DeAndre, and indicate to the Wizards that their package wasn’t sufficient.
What does a worse Wizards package look like? Well, for one, they might not be willing to part with both Oubre and a pick. Oubre is one of their most important current players, and at 22 years old, he could have big value for them in the future (either on the court or in the trade market). A first-round pick is a rare opportunity for a cap-strapped team to add talent on the cheap—or, it could be used as precious currency with which to rid themselves of an undesirable contract.
Speaking of undesirable contracts, it’s entirely possible that the Wizards offered the Clippers Ian Mahinmi instead of Marcin Gortat. Mahinmi made out like a bandit in the 2016 cap spike, and he has massive salaries of $15.9 million and $15.5 million in 2018-19 and 2019-20. It’s the kind of cap-clogging contract that the Clippers aren’t willing to touch—similar in severity to Tristan Thompson and Evan Turner.
If Washington’s offer looks less like Gortat, Smith, Oubre, and a pick, and more like Mahinmi, Smith, and either Oubre or a pick, it becomes pretty clear why the Clippers would quickly rebuff the Wizards.
That doesn’t mean that it’s not a fair offer with where the market is right now, just that it’s not something that interests the Clippers. The Wizards have huge money tied up long-term to John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Otto Porter. If they’re going to commit big money long-term to DeAndre Jordan as well, they have to ask themselves if they can win a championship with that core—the same difficult question that likely quieted Portland’s pursuit of DJ. If they believe in that core, they need to be in a position to put talent around them, which makes Oubre and the pick key pieces. And if they’re going to spend on Jordan, they definitely don’t want to have be shelling out tons of money to Mahinmi, who is currently averaging 4 points and 3.7 rebounds in 14.4 minutes a night. On top of that, this trade carries a big risk for the Wizards—what if they trade their starting center in Gortat, their most promising prospect in Oubre, and their first round pick, and Jordan walks in free agency this summer? Without cap space, Jordan’s departure would cripple their team-building abilities.
It makes perfect sense why moving Mahinmi would be necessary for a Jordan deal to be worthwhile from Washington’s perspective. It also makes perfect sense why the Clippers would feel like the Wizards’ sweetener isn’t worth adding the long-term salary.
Still, I wouldn’t be shocked if these teams reconvene as the deadline approaches. I honestly think that Mahinmi’s contract is a deal-breaker for the Clippers, and it may be for Washington too, but if the Wizards are willing to compromise and build a package around Gortat instead, LAC would probably have to listen very intently. If the Wizards compromise on Mahinmi, though, I expect that the Clippers may have to compromise on their pursuit of both Oubre and a first-round pick—and Oubre may be off the table altogether.
If, come Thursday morning, Washington is willing to give the Clippers Gortat and their pick, and give a third team a second-rounder to take on Jason Smith’s deal (either Sheldon Mac or Chris McCollough would need to be included for salaries to match, but neither has trade value), what do Jerry West, Lawrence Frank, and company say in Clippers HQ?
It would certainly be underwhelming for a player of Jordan’s caliber, but since the Clippers appear unwilling to give DeAndre the kind of extension he’s looking for, this trade would at least warrant consideration. A lot will depend on what other offers, if any, emerge for Jordan in the coming days. But if nobody else steps up to start a bidding war, you have to ask yourself which is better: having Jordan enter the off-season with a player option that would allow him to choose between opting in for one year at $24 million, or leaving for nothing, or acquiring a solid veteran center whose contract expires in 2019, a first-round pick, and a sizable trade exception (the 9.9 million difference between Jordan’s salary and Gortat’s)?
One of the things that makes the Wizards a compelling trade partner is that even if the above deal isn’t enough for the Clippers, there are quite a few ways to tweak the value of the “sweetener” to tilt the scales. If the Clippers don’t like just Gortat and a pick, the most obvious such way would be swapping Washington’s pick for Oubre, which is a pretty big shift in value towards the Clippers. If Washington is then hesitant, there are ways for the Clippers to sweeten the deal on their end: for starters, they can save the Wizards a 2nd round pick by either absorbing Smith’s contract or providing the pick to a third team themselves. Furthermore, the Clippers’ draft flexibility could allow for some interesting maneuvering. LAC won’t give up a first round pick outright, but in exchange for Oubre’s inclusion, I’d at least consider a deal where the Wizards got the middle of L.A.’s, Detroit’s, and Washington’s first-round picks.
Let’s say the Clippers are willing to do that pick swap if Oubre is included. Based on the current draft order, Washington would get the Clippers’ own pick (14th overall) and the Clippers would get Washington’s own pick (23rd overall). Moving up 9 slots is a nice upgrade in value for the Wizards while not being catastrophic for the Clippers, who would still have the 13th overall pick (Detroit’s based on the current draft order). If one of the Clippers’ picks, through divine intervention, wins the draft lottery, LAC would safely retain it and only transfer the middle of the three picks to Washington (and it would be painless to write pick protections for the impossible-but-not-statistically-0% event that both picks jump into the top 3).
I hadn’t looked closely at Washington as a Jordan destination before, mostly because I found Oubre and a pick in the 20s to be unappealing when compared to more sexy targets like C.J. McCollum, Khris Middleton, and the Brooklyn Nets pick. As we start to gain clarity on how weak the market is for DJ (or at least, we think we’re gaining clarity), the Wizards emerge as a trade partner that, while less exciting, provide more avenues for a workable deal. It’s definitely something to keep a close eye on this week.