Amid the gaggle of potential suitors, the Los Angeles Clippers haven’t come up a lot. Outside of Smith, however, the Clippers have been one of the most talked-about teams in the league as we near the trade deadline. They simultaneously feature a big-time asset on the market (Eric Bledsoe and his absurdly cheap contract), and “contender” status as we inch toward the playoffs. So, the question is, are they in on Josh Smith?
The most obvious trade “match” for Atlanta with the Clippers would surround a Bledsoe-for-Smith exchange, including a package of contracts to even out the salaries. ESPN’s Chris Broussard quickly debunked the possibility of this move, however, as he referenced a “short conversation” between the two teams, and a lack of interest on the part of Atlanta. Personally, I believe that the interest in Bledsoe from around the league is overstated, and if the team intends to keep Jeff Teague (it seems that they do, by all accounts), there is no room (or money) in a Teague/Lou Williams backcourt for Bledsoe.
It’s important to note that this isn’t the only course of action that LA could take to move Smith to the west coast. The Clippers are one of the only teams that could offer an entire package of expiring contracts to Atlanta that would match salaries, while including a 1st-round pick for their trouble. In short, a move that would include Lamar Odom ($8.2 million) and Chauncey Billups ($4 million) in exchange for Smith would work under cap rules, and if LA included a 1st-round pick, it could entice Atlanta to take such a deal. Before you ask, I am fully aware that this isn’t 2005 and that Odom and Billups does not present equal on-court value.
Frankly, it comes to down to whether Danny Ferry is comfortable enough with the concept of getting “nothing” in return in terms of player value, but instead adding a pick at virtually no cost to the future. Atlanta is (hopefully) under the realization that no move made during this season is going to change the team’s title possibilities for 2012-2013, and as such, it would actually be beneficial to become “worse” on the court for the duration of this season in order to improve draft positioning. If all other moves that are on the table either a) don’t materialize in Atlanta’s favor, or b) feature players with unsuitable contracts going forward (i.e. Kris Humphries), it would be a nice fall-back option to simply shed Smith for the season, replace him with matching expiring contracts, and receive a 1st-round pick while possibility bottoming out a bit in a lottery push. There is still the distinct possibility that a Horford-led Hawks team could hang on to a playoff spot (he’s that good), but any thoughts about this season’s on-court performance should take a back seat in favor of future consideration.
In short, Los Angeles is one of a few suitors in the league that could give Atlanta basic cap relief and throw in a 1st-round pick for Smith. The difference is that if Los Angeles acquired Smith, even for just a half-season, that acquisition could push them over the top in the title chase, so they would be apt to consider it, even with no designs on locking Smith up to a “max-like” contract. Even if Danny Ferry reaches the point where letting Josh “go for nothing” by the time 3:00 pm rolls around on Thursday, taking a deal with this type of structure is better than simply letting the season play out. Stay tuned.