When The Woj Bomb dropped on Friday, I struggled to process the news.
Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow and Keon Johnson were three guys who I felt like I’d put a lot of stock into this season and suddenly they were on their way to Portland, with two guys whose careers I hadn’t really followed until now coming the other way. As the reality of the trade began to sink in, it became clear that the Los Angeles Clippers had once again executed a sensible piece of business.
There’s no hiding that it’s tough to see those guys leave. At the beginning of this season, I wrote Johnson’s player preview piece and, while I felt there was a lot that needed working on within his game, I felt he had all the tools to do just that. Bledsoe’s arrival was seen as a homecoming and the romantic basketball fan in me loved that aspect of it, but I also thought he showed enough on the court to warrant the chance to ply his trade alongside Kawhi Leonard and Paul George whenever they return.
Winslow’s career in L.A was a slow burner, but he’d literally just enjoyed his best performance in a Clippers uniform and his daily dose of inspirational quotes made him quickly become one of my favorite athletes to follow in the social media sphere.
I’d bought into all three of those guys on the basis that this team was looking to improve its ability to get to the basket, and believed all three brought something different to the table than anybody else on the roster prior to their arrival. It wasn’t quite how it had manifested, but I convinced myself that the absence of Leonard and George made that particular project more of a work in progress anyway. We’d see the result eventually, but first, we’d have to enjoy the ride — and there’s absolutely no disputing we did that. I’m glad that all three of them had their moments with this squad, and the well-wishes from their now former teammates showed that each had earned their respect within the locker room.
The question for the front office and coaching staff to dig into now is what direction they see this team going in, in terms of personnel and system.
In Bledsoe and Winslow in particular, they’ve lost the two guys who were the poster boys for the new drive-kick-swing mantra they adopted back in the offseason. So did the style switch really work out and are they prepared to rip it up and head back to the drawing board now?
It feels important to say it wouldn’t be on either of those guys if that was the case, both put everything into making themselves functioning parts of a very up-and-down offensive unit, and neither can realistically be blamed for the struggles the Clippers have had on that end of the floor.
Does the move to bring in Norman Powell and Robert Covington suggest that the franchise wants to get back to being one of the league’s best three-point shooting teams? The first game of their tenure with the team suggests that could be the case. Though career-wise Covington’s 35% from deep doesn’t leap off the page, he has enjoyed seasons where his efficiency ranks closer to the 40% mark — including his last full season with Portland where he shot around 38%.
His more fruitful seasons tend to be ones in which he doesn’t throw up quite as many attempts, and on a squad loaded with shooters he may find himself not only taking fewer shots but also having more freedom to sink them when the ball does reach his hands anyway. Powell, on the other hand, has operated at 40% for all but two of his seasons in Toronto and in his last campaign with the Blazers. Both shot 50% on their debuts which should excite Clipper Nation about what they can offer from behind the arc.
While it’s never nice to say goodbye to guys that gave their all for this ball club, there is so much promise that comes with seeing new players brought into the group. It may be that this latest move sees the Clippers go back to their roots slightly, in a way which we may have felt the Bledsoe trade was designed to do. It’s time for a new experiment though, and with no return slated for either Leonard or George, the new guys will have time to get themselves nicely settled before the cavalry arrives.
Strap yourselves in, because whatever happens, it’s bound to be a ride.