As 3p ET ticked by, the trade deadline yielded less fruit than a ficus in nuclear winter, particularly for the Western Conference. The only notable trades were Portland acquiring Eric Maynor to shore up an non-existent bench and Houston smuggling Thomas Robinson out of Sacramento before moving vans could ship him up to the Emerald City.
But OKC? Josh Smith or J.J. Redick to San Antonio? Kevin Garnett or Paul Millsap to the Clippers? Much ballyhooed trade rumors disappeared into the ether and the three consensus Western Conference juggernauts can now only look within to determine whether they can climb over the others’ backs.
For Los Angeles, the aftermath paints a curious picture of the franchise. Del Negro was a decided proponent of a deal. And why shouldn’t he be? Vinny is a coach in the final year of his contract and he wants every opportunity to win now and secure a lucrative new contract/extension. That only happens with a pronounced showing in the playoffs.
For the Clippers’ front office, they saw the price of an Eric Bledsoe and other pieces (be it DeAndre Jordan or Caron Butler) as too heavy a mortgage on the future that would not necessarily net them any significantly higher advantage to win now. Of course, Garnett is a wonderful player. And the idea of a Garnett-Griffin high-low would send chills down any fans back. But effectively gutting the engine of the bench, a second unit that has been crucial for the Clippers all season, and upsetting the delicate balance the team had finally acquired was a risk determined too great.
The great fulcrum in all of this is Chris Paul – a superstar that is additionally empowered in the organization because of his impending free agency. The front office likely would not make moves solely on Paul’s thoughts, but one would assume that had Paul strongly voiced his desire to see a move made, the front office would have been more motivated to execute a deal and less concerned about managing the value of their assets.
So, for whatever reason, whether Paul determined that Garnett would not waive his no-trade clause, whether Paul genuinely believes in the roster or whether he simply felt it best to put his faith in the front office, the lack of maneuvering at the deadline is a tacit approval of the team and the direction the franchise is heading.
One of the great “what-if’s” of recent Clippers history is what the potential of that under-23 team would have been – Bledsoe and Gordon locking down the backcourt, Griffin, Aminu and Jordan flying around the frontcourt. The sheer potential oozing out of that youthful lineup is haunting on wistful nights. But that prospect was cashed in for something more tantalizing: potential realized. Just one short year after CP3 landed in Los Angeles, the Clippers are a title contending team. And this is a team that will provide finality and closure. Win or lose, there will be no “what might have been.”