Los Angeles Clippers: Deal may indicate more cost-cutting on the way

After a week of Free Agent dormancy, the Los Angeles Clippers made their first trade of the 2021 offseason. The Clippers acquired guard Eric Bledsoe from the Memphis Grizzlies for Patrick Beverley, Rajon Rondo, and Daniel Oturu. It is a curious move by the Clippers who traded away its depth, a key feature that led their 2021 playoff run.

However, upon closer inspection, it appears the move was financially motivated. ESPN Insider Bobby Marks broke down the deal.

The deal saved the Clippers approximately $30-million-dollars while creating an $8.5-million Trade Exception.

Los Angeles Clippers: Deal may indicate more cost-cutting on the way

The Kawhi Leonard Effect

There is no figure in the NBA more polarizing than Kawhi Leonard. The superstar forward was having an extraordinary playoff run before succumbing to a knee injury against the Dallas Mavericks. Following their Western Conference Final loss to Phoenix, rumblings of discontent emerged.

Fox TV Personality Skip Bayless addressed this on an episode of Undisputed.

“I have been told by a very good source that the first issue became Kawhi was unhappy with the Clippers medical staff because he felt they early on misdiagnosed and underplayed the extent of this knee injury.”

Leonard underwent surgery to repair a partially torn ACL and will miss the 2021-22 season. The 28-year-old then announced he would test Free Agency.

Given Leonard’s history of forcing his will on a franchise (like the San Antonio Spurs), this was a scary moment for the Clippers. The superstar forward forced his way out of San Antonio in 2017 before winning a championship in 2018 with the Toronto Raptors. In 2019 Free Agency, Leonard held the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, and the Raptors captive for five days before signing with the Clippers. However, before signing, he forced the franchise to trade its entire future to acquire Paul George from Oklahoma City. While his personality is silent, Leonard now has a record of quietly manipulating teams to adhere to his needs.

After two weeks of testing Free Agency, Leonard agreed to a four-year, $176.3-million deal to remain with the Clippers.

While signing Leonard to an extension is a win for the franchise, his $39.3-million is on the books this season limiting their flexibility this upcoming season. Could more moves be on the horizon?

Los Angeles Clippers face challenge to move deals

Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is a willing spender and his desire to win a championship is well known. However, Ballmer is a businessman and with Leonard out next year, it makes sense to lower the team’s luxury tax bill until his return.

Marcus Morris and Luke Kennard are two candidates in the crosshairs.

Morris was a key contributor to the Clippers post-season run last year but was very inconsistent. In 19 post-season appearances, Morris posted double figures just seven times. Kennard totaled double-figures just three times in 19 appearances. These numbers do not justify their large price tags.

This issue for the Los Angeles franchise is their lack of assets and if can they get equal value in return. The Clippers owe their future to the Oklahoma City Thunder after the Paul George trade in 2019 and only have one first-round pick at their disposal (2028). Additionally, there are only a handful of teams with cap space available to absorb deals.

Two of those teams are the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City.

Morris has a history with Dallas superstar Luka Doncic while the Thunder have little incentive to help the Clippers. Kennard is a skilled offensive player but cannot guard a parked car. Still, Kennard’s deal is far more appealing than Morris’ who turns 32 this season.

Final Thought

The Clippers next move will be interesting to monitor. The franchise is seeking their first NBA Championship but it won’t happen without Leonard. George was fantastic last postseason but alone is not enough.

From a business sense, the next logical step is to be competitive next season without having a large tax bill. They will need to be savvy if they are to reposition themselves financially and create flexibility for the 2022-23 season.

Until Leonard returns, their championship aspirations are on hold.

Main Image: Embed from Getty Images

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