After exceeding expectations in last season’s Playoffs despite losing Kawhi Leonard to a knee injury, it looks the Clippers are back to being the head-scratching Staples Center basement team of old. The Clippers executed a trade to acquire Eric Bledsoe from the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Daniel Oturu, Rajon Rondo, and their team’s heart and soul, Patrick Beverley.
This trade is the second transaction involving Bledsoe in these early stages of the offseason after the Pelicans traded him to Memphis to clear cap space for the possibility of getting Kyle Lowry to join Zion. Several playoff shortcomings resulted in the Bucks moving Bledsoe before the ’20/’21 season, and as we know, Milwaukee proceeded to win the championship.
Due to Bledsoe’s playoff struggles brought about by his inability to shoot the ball at a high clip makes the acquisition a peculiar one, considering that the Clippers built their team around two players who like to handle the ball to create their own shots in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. The Clippers’ success last season was also driven by being the best three-point shooting team in the league. Rondo and Beverley didn’t shoot well either, but Bledsoe is 33% for his career and will likely play more than the other two veterans headed to Memphis.
With the emergence of Reggie Jackson as a big-time player for the Clippers, he will likely move into the starting point guard slot full time, and Bledsoe will come off the bench. Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points per game in nearly 30 minutes last season for a Pelicans team struggling to put it all together. The Clippers are championship contenders, which means his minutes will likely go down, and opportunities to create offense will be few and far between. It’s hard to see a scenario where Bledsoe can contribute more to this team than Beverley and Rondo did.
The most likely explanation for this move is in the balance sheet – the Clippers will save around $30 million in luxury tax and create an $8.3 million trade exception. History teaches us that Kawhi will take his time returning from an injury, and this trade signals the Clips are not expecting him to play next season. Without Leonard, their title chances go down significantly, and as willing as he is to spend, Steve Ballmer obviously set certain limitations.
The Clippers did play a part in the resurrection of the careers of Reggie Jackson and Nic Batum, so there is hope that they can do the same with Bledsoe, whom they traded for on the night of the 2010 NBA draft. Bledsoe’s contract is fully guaranteed this year and only partially guaranteed in ’22/’23. If he can recuperate his value, the Clippers can trade him next season and use the trade exception to get someone who can help them contend when Kawhi returns. It’s all about next summer for the Clippers.