As we approach next month’s NBA Trade deadline, I’ll be doing a series of posts examining players who the Clippers could be pursuing in trade negotiations. I’ll cover a wide range of potential targets, including players the Clippers have been linked to in rumors, players who I think would make intriguing targets, and players who I have been asked about by readers. Haven’t seen a breakdown for a player you think the Clippers should pursue? Ask me to add him to the list!
Player Name: Steven Adams
Stats: Playing 27.6 minutes per game in 39 appearances, averaging 11.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists.
Contract: $25.8M this year, and $27.5M next year
Impact on Clippers: High
There is not a whole lot to dislike about Steven Adams. Despite never posting monstrous counting statistics, he’s been one of the better centers in the league for years, setting good screens, finishing around the rim, and providing elite interior defense. That last one just so happens to be perhaps the Clippers’ biggest weakness heading into the playoffs. Right now, skeptics question who LAC would have guard players like Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid. With Adams on the roster, those questions would be settled.
Even in match-ups where Adams might struggle—like against the Lakers’ Anthony Davis—he still helps the Clippers win. While Adams probably wouldn’t check Davis one-on-one, he’d help the Clippers gain an advantage against the Lakers’ super-sized lineups with LeBron James at small forward, Davis at power forward, and either JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard at center. Currently, the Clippers have struggled against those lineups, but found success against the Lakers’ small ball. So when Davis slides to center, Adams may have to sit—but that means the Lakers are relying more on their sub-par perimeter players against the Clippers’ more trustworthy wings and guards.
The one thing Adams doesn’t bring that the Clippers would like is floor-spacing ability. He takes just 6% of his shots from beyond 10 feet, and virtually never shoots from past 16 feet. No doubt, the Clippers would like a viable floor-spacing option at center, like Marc Gasol, Gorgui Dieng, or a potential resurgence from Dewayne Dedmon. But the reality is that once you move past the lack of a shot, Gasol is far and away the best option of the bunch at center, bringing ability and reliability far beyond Dieng and Dedmon. From that group, only Gasol can rival Adams in immediate on-court utility, but here’s where the debate decidedly ends in Adams’ favor: Adams is 26, turning 27 in July; Gasol is 34 and turns 35 before the trade deadline.
It’s hard to believe Adams is only 26, as it feels like he’s been around the league forever (he’s been a full-time starter for the perpetually good Oklahoma City Thunder since 2014-15). But there he is: a major upgrade at starting center with 50 games of playoff experience (including two Western Conference Finals runs) who is young enough to be elite through the remainder of the Clippers’ championship window with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Likeliness of Availability: Low
Unfortunately, every reason for the Clippers to pursue Adams is a reason why Oklahoma City would want to hold on to him. There was some early speculation last summer, when the Thunder moved on from Russell Westbrook and Paul George, that OKC would also look to move Adam’s rather large contract. But led by three former Clippers (Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Danilo Gallinari), the Thunder have managed to impress this season, managing a 24-19 record so far. I think that the Thunder still might look to move Chris Paul, who will turn 35 during this season’s playoffs and has two additional years on his contract, but it makes a lot less sense to part ways with the 26-year-old Adams.
In other words, Adams isn’t untouchable for OKC but he also isn’t a guy they’re likely looking to off-load, meaning that the Clippers will have to put together a package with serious value. Due to Adams’ large deal, the Clippers would have to send out quite a bit to bring him in—about $20.6M in outgoing salary.
The most likely package, like with almost every prospective Clipper target, is built around Moe Harkless’ $11.1M expiring deal. But $9.5M is still a lot of ground to cover, and we haven’t even started building real value into the deal for OKC yet. The next step will help with both: LAC is almost definitely going to have to send either Ivica Zubac or Montrezl Harrell to Oklahoma City for this deal to work. Zubac makes $6.4M, while Harrell makes $6M, so the difference is negligible and the choice comes down to the two teams’ evaluations of each player. The Clippers could make a deal where they send out Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, or both JaMychal Green and Rodney McGruder—but such a deal would deplete the Clippers’ depth at other positions while leaving them with three centers.
For the Clippers, Zubac is stylistically redundant with Adams, and they no longer need to worry about holding on to him as a long-term starter because of Adams’ age. But he’s still effective, good insurance for post-Adams (if the Clippers choose to use Adams’ then-expiring deal in another trade next year, or if he leaves in free agency in the 2021 off-season), and importantly on a long-term team-friendly deal. Harrell offers a complement to Adam’s game and would likely be effective in reserve, but he would see his minutes significantly cut due to the import of a high-caliber starter, and the Clippers might have additional hesitation to pay him in free agency this summer if they already owe Adams over $27M next year. To be honest, I could go either way on this from the Clippers’ perspective.
I assume that the Thunder would rather have Zubac, since he more fills Adams’ shoes as a starter and is a young core piece to play next to SGA long-term. But, Nerlens Noel has played well for Oklahoma City long-term and if the Thunder have a high opinion of Harrell and re-sign him in July, this trade would allow them to pair those two in a similar arrangement to the one the Clippers have now.
Once a center is added, the Clippers are up to $17.5 (Zubac) or $17.1 (Harrell). That puts us right within range of the $20.5 needed to bring back Adams. To complete the deal, the Clippers would need to add either Jerome Robinson or Rodney McGruder (a Harkless/Harrell/Robinson package is literally $19,000 short, so McGruder needs to take Jerome’s place).
That makes the money work—now we have to deal with value. How badly do the Clippers want to chase Adams? How willing are the Thunder to move on? The answers to those questions are probably not close enough in alignment for a mutually agreeable deal, but you never know.