The Los Angeles Clippers are reworking a supporting cast still waiting and/or hoping for its two stars to return.
The team acquired Norman Powell and Robert Covington from the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson and a 2025 second-round pick, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
The deal gives the Clippers a well-established two-way wing in Powell, as well as Covington, a veteran forward who could slide in as a small-ball five at times for the Clippers.
Powell, who is in the first year of a five-year, $90 million extension he signed with the Blazers last summer, is currently averaging 18.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 40.6% from deep. The 31-year-old Covington, a free agent after this season, is averaging 7.6 points per game, his lowest mark since his rookie year, with 5.7 rebounds per game.
All three players the Blazers are acquiring joined the Clippers last offseason. The Clippers brought in Bledsoe in a four-player trade, signed Winslow on a two-year, $8 million contract and drafted Johnson 21st overall in the 2021 NBA draft.
Bledsoe is on the third year of a four-year, $70 million deal he signed three teams ago.
Bledsoe hasn't been a bright spot for the Clippers this season, but this deal leaves them without a backup point guard behind Reggie Jackson, which could mean another move is coming. Rookie Jason Preston, the 33rd overall pick who has been out all season with a foot injury, could also be a factor.
Will Clippers reach full strength?
This trade almost certainly makes the Clippers a better team this season, but it still remains to be seen if the Clippers can truly be considered a contender.
There had been some hope Leonard could return this season after his ACL rehab was reported to be ahead of schedule, but Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue threw some cold water on that idea on Thursday when he mentioned Leonard "is probably not going to come back." He subsequently walked that back a little, but Leonard's status once again appears to be a mystery.
Meanwhile, George is reportedly expected to undergo an MRI on his injured elbow in three weeks.
If the Clippers have a full-strength Leonard and George with a supporting cast that has kept the team in playoff contention, plus these latest trade reinforcements, by the end of the season, they are a legit contender. That is an enormous "if," though. Maybe this move means the Clippers know something about their two stars, but this could just as much be a play to have Powell alongside them for future seasons.
The Blazers have basically given up on this season
Trading away Powell, who currently leads the Blazers in points scored this season, and Covington, who leads the team in minutes played, is as much an admission as you're going to get that the team has given up on playing anything close to respectable basketball in the 2021-22 season.
The Blazers are currently 10th in the Western Conference at 21-31. Damian Lillard may not play again this season. General manager Neil Olshey has been fired, though that was following a toxic workplace investigation.
There have been some bright spots for the Blazers this season, the emergence of Anfernee Simons in particular, but this is very clearly not their season. So they traded away two veterans in exchange for a potential future contributor in Johnson and a draft pick, while also taking on another veteran on a worse contract and Winslow, who is only 25 years old.
The move does help with the Blazers' tax bill, according to ESPN's Bobby Marks. The trade pushes Portland below the luxury tax, while Los Angeles takes on an additional $19 million.