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By trading for Norman Powell and Robert Covington, the Clippers show that they are anything but out of it

The deal that kicked off NBA trade season could make a huge difference in Los Angeles moving forward.

Los Angeles Clippers v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images

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TURN UP THE TUNES. TRADE SEASON HAS ARRIVED.

As spoken into the Twitter-verse by the trade shaman himself, the Clippers have kicked off the 2021-22 NBA trade season in a major way. To Portland, off go Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, and the Detroit Pistons’ second-round pick in 2025. To Los Angeles: Norman Powell and Robert Covington. In terms of star power, this is as lopsided a trade as they come, despite the fact that none of the involved players fit the bill of a “star.” But this trade, above all else, proves that the Clippers aren’t quite out on this season just yet. As they shouldn’t be.

L.A. is currently in eighth place in the Western Conference but sits just two games back of the sixth-place Denver Nuggets. That’s a spot within striking distance, never mind the fact that it doesn’t look like Kawhi Leonard will be returning this season. “We know Kawhi’s probably not gonna come back,” Lue said on Thursday night after the Clippers beat the Los Angeles Lakers. George’s rehab timeline, as Lue also alluded to on Thursday, is a lingering uncertainty. But never mind that; no matter the optics of your season, if you can exchange some inconsequential pieces for two immediate impact assets like Powell and Covington, you do it. All things considered, this trade is highway robbery.

With respect to Bledsoe, Winslow, and Johnson, their seasons were inconsistent, to say the least. Bledsoe was at times a solid reserve, but the Clippers were better when he was on the bench. More often than not, he merely occupied space on the wing, not playing with intensity nor haste. In other words, he periodically looked as though he didn’t want to be there. Justise Winslow has been an inefficient offensive player in what looked as though it could be a revival spot for a player whose NBA career has been an overwhelming disappointment. Keon Johnson, a teen, is likely the piece that convinced Portland to pull the trigger here; he’s arguably as explosive an athlete as there is in the league. Unfortunately, he’s incredibly raw and just landed on one of two NBA teams without a G-League affiliate. He may be staring down a make-it-or-break-it situation in Portland, despite his youth.

But as it pertains to Los Angeles, specifically, they gain two players who can leave productive footprints upon arrival.

Let’s start with Powell — he’s the better of the two, “a two-way player who can score from all three levels, spread the floor with his shooting and guard multiple positions with his length and versatility,” as Lawrence Frank said in a released statement. He’s averaging 18.7 points per game this season and is shooting above 40 percent from three, which is becoming a consistent mark for the wing. Since exiting health and safety protocols in late January after a 10-plus-day stint in the middle of the month, Powell has been draining three of his 6.8 attempts from deep — that’s a 43.9 percent clip. From a spot-up perspective, he can (and often is) a deadly marksman.

Overall, he’s shot 46 percent from the field since January 25, a six-game stretch during which he was playing 35.5 minutes a night, a slight bump up from his season average (33.3). That’s likely close to what he can expect once he debuts for the Clippers. He’s a two-way player who can be a sixth-man powerhouse when this team is healthy, playing behind or alongside Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. While they’re out, though, Powell’s touches will increase dramatically, something he’s more than capable of handling. He could be more consistent as a playmaker off the dribble, but his best flashes resemble streaks of lightning.

That Powell isn’t much of a playmaker is of some concern, given that this team has had trouble identifying a true offensive conductor this season. Reggie Jackson has been the Clippers’ de facto point guard, but that’s hardly by design; he only averages 4.1 assists per game; Powell won’t help in that sense, as he only averages 2.1. But that’s not what he’s sought after for. His scoring and defensive ability are the draws, and he’ll both to Los Angeles in bunches.

Oh, and he happens to be thrilled about the trade, which marks a homecoming for Powell. Frank noted that “Norm has SoCal roots, having grown up in San Diego and starred at UCLA... We’re thrilled to bring him back.”

Covington’s case is a trickier one. He’s a solid defender — and has been for years — but the common misconception is that he’s a solid on-ball defender. Lawrence Frank almost hinted at some awareness of this in his statement after the trade, calling Covington a “team” defender: in other words, Covington can’t stick with a man one-on-one, but boy, is he a menace in those passing lanes.

There’s value in that; quite a bit of it, in fact. Covington’s 1.5 steals per game rank 19th in the league among players who have played in at least 15 games this season; he ranks 18th in blocks (1.3 per game), too. He’s a fiend when it comes to 50-50 balls. That’s something you can’t manufacture — good thing you can trade for it.

He leaves a ton to be desired offensively, though, as he’s experienced a steep drop-off from his better years in the league. His 7.6 points per game are a career-low. It helps that he’s not called on much for instant offense — unless he’s hot from three; Google the word “streaky” and Covington’s face appears. Yet while he’s not quite a liability in close games, he toes that line. Especially considering that he isn’t going to serve as a playmaker either; he averages just 1.5 assists per game in his career, and he’s puttering around that average this season (1.4).

Nevertheless, he’s a defensive-minded player who joins a team with a similar identity. And he’s an option offensively for a team that could use options; at the very least, you can never have enough.

Either way, both Ro-Co and Powell are plug-and-play pieces that the Clippers can use from the jump. Their first chance comes tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks, and given the shorthandedness of the Clippers for the foreseeable future, their additions could pay humongous dividends. And, to be quite frank, they’ll be expected to.