Moore: The Tobias Harris Trade Positions the Clippers to Land a Superstar … If It Works

Moore: The Tobias Harris Trade Positions the Clippers to Land a Superstar … If It Works article feature image

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Tobias Harris

  • The Tobias Harris trade has set the Los Angeles Clippers up to land a superstar this summer -- if all goes according to plan.
  • Matt Moore breaks down what's next for the Clips in the aftermath of Tuesday's late-night deal.

To be honest, I’m a little surprised it took this long.

There has been a little burbling, a little grumbling, some murmuring since the Clippers broke up Lob City — or had it broken up by Chris Paul, depending on how you look at it — in 2017.

It should have been a time for a downturn, for a long slog back to Clipperdom, a return to the days of failed draft picks and low attendance while still somehow raking in dollars because they play in Los Angeles.

Steve Ballmer, though, is not that kind of cat.

He landed Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams in the CP3 deal. He retained Blake Griffin. He added Jerry West as a consultant, a man with no intention of helping craft a long rebuild. J.J. Redick was gone.

Then the Clippers traded Blake Griffin out of nowhere, netting good players in Tobias Harris, who only improved, along with Blue Moon Marjanovic (he only appears once every six months for 10 minutes). They swapped out DeAndre Jordan last summer for a cheap deal in Marcin Gortat.

They had built a versatile set of assets, and that was just the on-court work.

Suddenly the Clippers started popping up in conversations as a preferred destination for various superstars. Jimmy Butler. Kawhi Leonard. Anthony Davis. Whether it was Ballmer’s mogul-status influence, West’s championship-building resume or the fact that Lob City and the replacement of Donald Sterling had taken the stink off a franchise in the most favored by players of all NBA locales, something had shifted.

The Clippers cruised on, set up for a future while also competing for a playoff spot.

Then came Tuesday’s late-night trade of Harris, Boban Marjanović and Mike Scott to the Sixers for Landry Shamet (a young wing who can shoot), Wilson Chandler (a veteran on an expiring contract), Mike Muscala (ditto) and two first-rounders including the hyper-coveted Miami 2021 unprotected.

The key with these kinds of moves is to not see them as unilateral objectives.

The Knicks had a unilateral objective in the Kristaps Porzingis trade: Clear cap space to sign guys this summer. That’s apparent. What the Clippers have done is set themselves up for the same kind of signing this summer — be it Leonard, Butler or Kevin Durant — but there’s something else here.

Were the Clippers to enter the trade market again before Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline, they now have this to offer:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a young, promising point guard who got off to a hot started and has faded but remains a long-term stud. Harrell, a 25-year-old big man who’s excellent defensively and on the pick and roll. Shamet, a spot-up weapon super-young. Williams’ contract, which is non-guaranteed at $8 million in 2020-21/ Wilson Chandler’s expiring contract. Danilo Gallinari, a veteran starter-caliber wing. And a pick this year, next year and all their picks going forward.

That’s … quite an offer.

It provides young starters, a big swappable contract, a small value contract (Williams), high-value prospects and the Miami 2021 — which, depending on how things go, could wind up being extremely valuable.

Also notable? None of these assets expire this summer except for Chandler, Gortat, Patrick Beverly and Muscala. They can return to the table in July.

In other words, even if nothing happens between now and the trade deadline, the Clippers can go to the Pelicans at the draft and offer the Sixers’ pick this year, the Heat pick in 2021, their own future picks, Gilgeous-Alexander, Harrell, whatever contracts with whatever timelines the Pelicans prefer, take back salary, get Davis and still have room left over for another max contract. (They would likely have to either trade or move Gallinari, which wouldn’t be difficult.)

This of course brings with it the same issues the Lakers are having with such a deal: If you trade the farm, even if you have two stars, what are you left with?

But if the Clippers can get a deal for Davis — or another star, who knows who’s next? — while retaining half their assets, they would still have a core around their two stars.

The Clippers basically punted on Harris’ free agency, trading a very-very-good player for the chance at one to two top-five guys. If they swing out, they will still have a decent team with good long-term prospects and a great trade package going into next year.

Their stakes aren’t as high, but their outcomes are.

And yet … they still have to pull it off.

The Clippers still have to put their chips in and draw the right cards. Things still have to line up for them, and things lining up for them hasn’t exactly been the way of the Clippers throughout their history.

The Clippers are trying desperately to not be the Clippers. They’ve rehabbed their organization from the ground up. They’ve stockpiled the assets. They’re ready to strike.

The question is, when will they make their move?