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With the Tobias Harris Trade, The Clippers Have Officially Rolled the Dice

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With the Tobias Harris trade, the Clippers are going all in on a new, superstar-driven future

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Twitter was just settling down for the evening, when news from Shams Charania and Adrian Wojnarowski struck like a lightning bolt: a massive, blockbuster trade between the Sixers and the Clippers. The Clippers sent Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, and Boban Marjanovic to Philly, receiving Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet, the Sixers 2020 1st round pick, a Miami Heat (unprotected) 2021 1st round pick, and the 2nd round picks in 2021 and 2023 (from the Pistons, per Derek Bodner). Whew.

This is very easy to unpack from the Sixers’ perspective: they are going all in for a championship, and have just put together the most dangerous starting five in the NBA outside of the Golden State Warriors. They gave up a lot of assets, but are doing so in the hopes of a run to the NBA Finals, and possibly even a championship. Tobias Harris is a perfect fit in Philly with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Jimmy Butler, with his shooting opening up the floor greatly. For the Clippers, it’s a bit more difficult to parse.

The Clippers have stated over and over again how much they like Tobias Harris. He had been marketed as the face of the franchise since he came over in the Blake Griffin deal, and especially since DeAndre Jordan left last summer. The Clippers offered him a 4 year, $80 million extension last summer, which Tobias turned down because he figured he could do better this upcoming summer. His play has proven him correct, as he’s projected to earn a max contract, or something close to it — all of it earned. He’s a beast, an All-Star level player in a tough Western Conference, and someone the Clippers loved as a player and as a person. Was there some wariness about signing him to a max deal this summer if push came to shove? Possibly. But that’s not what this was about.

No, this was about the Clippers going all in on superstars. Not stars, like Tobias Harris, but top-tier, grade-A players whose very presence nearly guaranteed a playoff spot — and NBA relevance. Acquiring two 1st round picks (one of which, the Heat pick, could be very good indeed) and two 2nds, along with a promising rookie in Landry Shamet, could be seen as the start to a rebuild, the rebuild that was delayed with the collapse of Lob City by the surprising play of the “blue-collar” Clippers over the past year and a half. And, if the Clippers’ plans go awry, that could be the case. But the Clippers didn’t acquire those picks to use them. They acquired them to flip for players - superstars - either before this deadline on Thursday or over the summer.

The Clippers, in addition to the treasure trove of assets they already had - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jerome Robinson, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, and their own picks - have now added the bounty from the Sixers. And that’s not all. If the Clippers are punting on this season (which this trade would indicate they are), their other veterans (Lou, Avery Bradley, Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari) could get traded for other young players and draft picks as well. If the Clippers truly tear this down over the next 36 hours, they could have even more picks and young players to throw at teams this summer in exchange for superstar talent.

There’s also the possibility they make their move for a superstar sooner than summer. Anthony Davis is still available, and what with the news that he’d be willing to re-sign with the Clippers, and the Pelicans seeming unwillingness to deal him to the Lakers, the Clips could have the perfect chance to sneak in and steal him. Shai, Jerome, Shamet, salary filler, the picks the Clippers just got, and a couple of their own would probably be able to equal if not top the Lakers’ offer, and that’s not even counting what else they might get for some of their other veterans. If the Clippers are able to complete a deal for AD before the deadline, they will have him plus cap space going into this summer, making the Clippers perhaps the free agent destination of 2019. Even if they don’t make the trade now, it doesn’t appear as if any other AD trade is imminent, so such a deal will be an option this summer too.

But really, this is about the free agency class of 2019: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, and Jimmy Butler (and, to a lesser extent, Klay Thompson and Kemba Walker). The Clippers would not go all out like this, dumping a player whom they really like, and who would have been a reasonably plan B or C this summer, unless they had very high confidence in getting not one, but two superstars this summer. Kawhi Leonard is the first, and most obvious candidate — the Clippers have been keeping tabs on him all season, and the organization seems very assured that they have a great shot at the Raptors’ wing. AD could be number two... but if the Clippers are able to move Gallinari for expirings at the deadline, they could have space to sign two max guys this summer, as well as trade for AD, potentially. I think that this deal was a sign from the Clippers that they believe they have a good shot at one (or more) of the other superstars besides Kawhi and AD.

The Clippers now have the cap space to sign two superstar free agents outright this summer. They have a large number of assets to make a trade for another one, and could add to their stockpile over the next day and a half. This trade has set them up impeccably for this summer — and for the future. If the Clippers do strike out in free agency (which seems doubtful, at this point), they will be well on the path to a true rebuild, ready for further acquisitions and signings as players become available down the line.

In the short term, barring a Davis trade before the deadline (or another superstar), this trade essentially sinks the Clippers’ playoff chances. Muscala is a fringe NBA big man, Chandler is a mere rotation wing (who’s currently injured), and Shamet, while promising, is a rookie guard on a team still stacked with guards (another sign more trades are coming). This is fine. The Clippers probably weren’t going to make the playoffs anyway, what with the Lakers having LeBron James and the teams ahead of them seeming to be by-and-large superior squads.

A side benefit is that the Clippers will get to keep their draft pick this summer, which would have been sent to the Celtics if they’d made the playoffs: another asset in the vault for the Clippers, and one removed from a potential Davis trade partner. They’ve accumulated too many wins to truly fall far in the standings, but if they trade more of their veterans and play their young guys down the stretch, they could sink as low as 13th in the Western Conference standings.

So now, all eyes will remain on the Clippers, both as Davis trade partners, and to see what they do with their remaining veterans. Jerry West (and the rest of the Clippers’ front office, which doesn’t get nearly enough credit) are almost certainly not done yet. And, considering what they’ve done in just the past season and a half, prepare for anything. The trade they just made, while cold-blooded, was an incredible play from a sheer assets perspective, turning a soon to be free agent and two role players into four picks and a solid young prospect. The Clippers’ future has never looked brighter, and the ambitions of the people running it have never been higher.