Last offseason, the Clippers made significant roster changes. Out went Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell replaced by Serge Ibaka, a more versatile player and a better defender. They added more established shooting in Luke Kennard. The Clippers also signed Nicolas Batum as a free agent — he is the only one of those three to live up to or exceed expectations with the team.
What the Clippers didn’t do was bring in a point guard and playmaker, something that has been a clear priority for a couple of seasons now.
The Clippers are trying to remedy that at the trade deadline and trade for Lonzo Ball of the Pelicans, Marc Stein of the New York Times reports.
Draft-pick limitations complicate any Clippers pursuit and would likely require a three-team (or more) construction … but they have six days to keep working the market in search of a difference-making trade.
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) March 19, 2021
Three-team (or more) trades are difficult to put together and highly unlikely to happen. Not impossible, but unlikely.
Ball has drawn the interest of several teams, including the Knicks. Most teams are weighing a trade for him vs. trying to poach him as a restricted free agent this offseason.
Of course the Clippers would like to trade for Lonzo, he’s a better fit with their needs than Ricky Rubio or Terry Rozier, other trade names linked to the Clippers. (Kyle Lowry is the best point guard mentioned in rumors, but the Raptors are reportedly shooting those trade talks down).
Ball is having the best season of his career, averaging 14.2 points per game and shooting 38.5% from three, while dishing out 5.6 assists a night. He’s a strong player in transition and a quality defender at the point as well. He’s become a solid NBA starter — and if a team trade for him, they will have to pay him like one starting this offseason when he is a restricted free agent.
Ball also has developed strong chemistry with Zion Williamson, which has made the Pelicans more reluctant to trade him, or at least ups the asking price.
That price for a Lonzo trade is the problem for the Clippers. Los Angeles is almost up against the hard cap, meaning it needs to send out as much or more salary than it is getting back in a trade. For example, the Clippers could make the trade work by sending out Lou Williams, Terance Mann, and Mfiondu Kabengele, but that’s already a lot to trade away and the Pelicans would also want draft picks with that, something (as noted by Stein) the Clippers are low on after recent trades.
It’s challenging to see how the Clippers put together a trade for Lonzo Ball. This may be more of a trade idea that gets leaked because a team wants to show its fan base and players how hard it is working toward a deal, even if this one isn’t going to happen.
That said, expect a lot of Lonzo rumors and Clippers rumors in the coming days, if not always together.