The Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies have broken the late-summer malaise the NBA was in with a fairly significant trade. Eric Bledsoe will go to the Clippers in exchange for Rajon Rondo, Patrick Beverley and Daniel Otoru, according to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Earlier in the offseason, the New Orleans Pelicans traded Bledsoe to the Grizzlies in a pre-draft trade, but the veteran point guard was never expected to remain in Memphis. Likewise, Rondo and Beverley could be on the move again soon. So could Otoru for that matter, though as of now there’s no subsequent deals in place.
With the deal now in place, let’s grade the trade:
Bledsoe began his career with the Clippers and spent three seasons there before he was traded to the Phoenix Suns in a three-team trade ahead of the 2013-14 season. Since then he’s bounced around, and most notably spent a few seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks. There, he made back-to-back All-Defensive teams and helped the Bucks finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference in two straight seasons. However, he struggled so much in the playoffs that the team thought it was necessary to trade him last summer and then immediately won the title with his replacement, Jrue Holiday.
It will be interesting to see if he can shed those playoff demons in a new situation — that is, assuming the Clippers can get there with Kawhi Leonard expected to miss most of the season with a torn ACL. If Leonard doesn’t come back the Clippers won’t be contenders anyway so it might just not matter in the long run.
After all, perhaps the primary motivation for the Clippers to make this trade is that they will save about $30 million in luxury-tax payments this year. And looking forward beyond this upcoming season, Bledsoe only has a partial guarantee of $3.9 million for 2022-23, which gives them some flexibility if they don’t want to keep him long term. This very well could be another one-season stop for Bledsoe.
However long he ends up staying, he should still be a productive player in the regular season at least. The Clippers have needed a true point guard to take some of the playmaking duties out of Paul George’s and Leonard’s hands, and Bledsoe can still defend. From a pure talent standpoint, he’s a clear upgrade on Beverley and end-of-career Rondo. Obviously his sub-par outside shooting is a concern, but it’s much less of an issue in the regular season.
Overall this deal is fine. Beverley will be missed, especially from a culture and locker room standpoint, but the Clippers gained some much needed flexibility for the future without really sacrificing anything on the court.
Bledsoe never made sense on this Grizzlies roster since they weren’t going to take the ball out of Ja Morant’s or Dillon Brooks’ hands, and Bledsoe isn’t an off-ball guy. At this stage in his career he clearly didn’t have interest in a rebuilding project either, so moving him to a contender always made the most sense.
His playoff failures make it difficult to command too much of a return, however, and most title challengers are already set at point guard. After seeing what they got from the Clippers, it would be interesting to see what other offers were out there. At the very least, moving Bledsoe for two expiring contracts will help them save some money next season when they don’t have to worry about his partial guarantee.
Other than that, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens since it seems likely that some combination of these players will be heading elsewhere. Rondo, in particular, doesn’t make sense on this roster for all the same reasons as Bledsoe. Beverley’s general style is a perfect fit for Memphis, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they keep him moving along too. Oturu, a second-round pick in last year’s draft, is another young player for the Grizzlies to take a look at, but he faces a roster crunch.
At this point it’s difficult to even give a grade for the Grizzlies here. If they’re able to flip Rondo and/or Beverley at some point for future assets that would be a wise move and could make this a much better deal for them. There’s also the possibility that they don’t get anything else meaningful and this trade goes down as a salary dump and footnote in NBA history.