The trading season has begun – and the opening hit struck straight at the Thunder.
As first reported on Friday by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Los Angeles Clippers have traded Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson, and a 2025 second-round pick to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Norman Powell and Robert Covington.
In this five-man swing of veterans and projects alike, two on-the-fence franchises now look to be true to a course heading into the latter stages of the season. Both spell danger in the Thunder’s direction.
In the Trail Blazers’ camp, the offloading of a premier scorer and Powell and an expiring piece in Covington signal they’ve thrown the towel in for this season. And with a 21-32 record and Damian Lillard sidelined the next 6-to-8 weeks, that’s justifiably so.
Following a crucial loss to the Thunder on Friday, Portland now trails Oklahoma City a mere 3.0 games in reverse standings. That means having a rough end patch could see them slide from a late-lottery team to a ping-pong ball beacon come lottery day. Plus, with a 22-year-old Anfernee Simons now starting and Keon Johnson growing without a G League affiliate, both men could get significant runs despite the box score result.
That’s a big jab in the Thunder’s direction.
From the Clippers’ side of things, Oklahoma City has been intertwined with the organization ever since shipping out Paul George. In the two-team deal that saw three players swap sides, headlined by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Los Angeles sent out three unprotected picks in 2022, 2024, and 2026 and two first-round pick swaps in 2023 and 2025. The pile-up of selections started this year, putting LA’s pick in Sam Presti’s hand regardless of their draft slot.
Initially, the Clippers looked to be fighting for the Larry O’Brien Trophy this season. However, a season-ending injury of Kawhi Leonard and the long-term outage of George derailed Los Angeles into limbo four months into the year. Stooping atop a 27-27 record pre-trade, the organization wavered between mid-lottery standing and play-in grazing logs the whole way. Now, with a solidified scorer in Powell, who has averaged 18.7 points on a 40% three-point clip, and a 3-and-D veteran in Covington – their rotations, even absent of Leonard and George, should stay afloat. And if either player returns, they’ll have a superstar to mesh with a deep roster in Powell, Covington, Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Marcus Morris, Terrance Mann, and Nicolas Batum, among others.
The point is, they’ve opted to go all-in.
At the surface level, the Clippers getting a sigh of relief this season via trade looks to be nothing more than a hindrance. The kicker – their prized jewel from the deal is on for the long haul.
Powell, who was inarguably the centerpiece of this trade, trekked to Portland at last year’s deadline on a budget $10.8M contract. The issue arose when GM Neil Olshey, who has now been fired, inked Powell to a five-year, $90M this past offseason. Essentially, this signage put all hands on deck for Powell playing third fiddle to Lillard and CJ McCollum. The blueprint did not go as expected.
Due to this faulty contract, Powell quickly turned into a negative asset this season as despite him posting numbers, the paygrade and contract length made a long-term roadblock for Portland. As for Clippers owner Steve Balmer, Powell’s sizable contract is nothing but chump change. He’s estimated to be worth $96.1B.
Having Powell locked down for five seasons, Los Angeles has a top-tier scoring option for the entirety of their first-round payout to the Thunder. Additionally, with George and Leonard under contract for the next three seasons – there’s a deadly trio in the City of Angels. When you couple this with key players in Morris and Kennard also in wraps for three seasons, the likelihood of a Clippers implosion is fairly slim. Barring injury, they should be in contention for the long term.
Oklahoma City’s massive clump of Los Angeles firsts had little-to-no lottery expectations early into its cycle, and with the acquisition of Powell and Covington, they look to be back par to the course.
As for what is next in the Thunder’s draft crosshairs, their pick currently holds the fourth-best odds while the Phoenix Suns’ first-round pick is expected to head to Bricktown off a top-10 finish. They are projected to hold three first-round picks this draft.