PORTLAND, Ore. — The Portland Trail Blazers have traded Norman Powell and Robert Covington to the Los Angeles Clippers, the team confirmed Friday. In return, the Clippers are sending Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson and a 2025 second-round pick via the Detroit Pistons to the Blazers.
The news was first reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowksi.
"The emergence of Anfernee Simons allows for the Blazers to move off the balance of Norman Powell's long-term contract — and gives the Clippers a proven two-way wing to partner with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George," Wojnarowski tweeted.
Powell is in the first year of a five-year contract, earning about $15.5 million this season. He'll earn about $74.5 million over the final four years of his contract. Covington is in the final year of his contract this season, earning about $13 million.
Who the Blazers are getting
Bledsoe makes $18.1 million this season, but only $3.9 million of his $19.4 million is guaranteed next season. The full salary will guarantee if he's still on the roster after June 29, 2022, according to basketball-reference.com. The 32-year-old, 6-foot-1 point guard is averaging 9.9 points this season, his lowest scoring average since the 2013 season. He's also averaging 4.2 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. In his prime, Bledsoe was one of the best defensive guards in the NBA, twice being named to the all-defensive team, most recently in 2020.
Winslow, 25, is a 6-6 wing who can play shooting guard and both forward positions. Drafted with the 10th pick in 2015, he has not lived up to the expectations of a lottery selection, averaging 8.3 points and 5.1 rebounds in 25.8 minutes per game for his career. This season, he's averaging 4.2 points, 3.6 rebounds in 12.9 minutes per game. He is a strong wing defender, with positive defensive box score plus-minus marks in six of his seven seasons in the NBA. He's making about $3.9 million this season and will earn about $4.1 million next season.
Johnson, 19, was drafted by the Knicks in the first round (No. 21) in last summer's NBA draft and then traded to the Clippers. A 6-5 shooting guard out of Tennessee, he's played in only 15 games for the Clippers this season, averaging 3.5 points in nine minutes per game. He's earning about $2.5 million this season in the first year of a rookie contract. Kevin O'Conner of The Ringer wrote this about Johnson after he was drafted: "Johnson received interest as high as the mid-lottery, so grabbing him this late in the first could be a potential steal for the Clippers, who need a fill-in for Kawhi Leonard. Johnson is a raw player who didn’t start playing organized basketball full time until high school, but he brings athletic defense to the floor. On offense, he’s all speed, verticality, and potential. It may take time for Johnson’s flashes as a shot creator to become more consistent, but the reward could be massive."
While the return from the Clippers seems underwhelming on the surface, it seems like this may be the first domino to fall as the Blazers try to rebuild the roster around Damian Lillard. "[The] Blazers are both expected to continue to make deals over the next week," Wojnarowski wrote. "The Blazers' plan is to continue to reshape the roster around All-NBA guard Damian Lillard."
Every player and draft pick the Blazers received in this trade could have value to other teams as the Blazers pursue other trades.
Bledsoe could be used in a bigger trade to help match salary but also, because only $3.9 million of his contract next season is guaranteed, he could also provide salary relief to the team that trades for him. Winslow is a former Top 10 pick, still young, on a good contract, who is at the very least a strong defensive player with good size on the wing. Johnson is a high-upside young player who was drafted only last summer. Young players like that have trade value. Because he's still in the first year of his rookie deal, trading for him is essentially like trading for a first-round pick. And the second-round pick, coming from Detroit, has trade value. It's considered a "good" second-round pick because unless the Pistons improve considerably over the next couple seasons, it projects to be a high second-round pick.
This trade will also save the Blazers about $4 million this season, which should move the team under the luxury tax threshhold. Why does that matter? Because the Blazers were over the luxury tax in two of the past three seasons, if they were over the luxury tax this season, it would have triggered much larger financial penalties and roster-building restrictions for the team. By ducking the luxury tax this season, they reset the clock on repeater tax penalties for at least the next two seasons.
While it's fair to question whether fans should care about how much billionaire NBA owners spend on salaries, luxury tax penalties do make it more difficult for a front office to build a competitive roster because it limits flexibility in the kinds of moves that a team can make. If the Blazers want to rebuild the roster around Lillard, flexibility is something the front office needs.
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Blazers say goodbye to two starters
The Blazers traded Trevor Ariza and two first-round draft picks for the 6-foot-9 Covington prior to the 2020-21 season.
Covington, 31, was one of the Blazers’ best players his first season in Portland, ably filling the role of the 3-and-D forward Portland envisioned when it traded for him. In 70 games, the 6-foot-9 power forward averaged 8.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks in 32 minutes per game. He also shot 37.9% on 5.1 3-point attempts per game.
Covington’s real value was always more evident in advanced metrics than in the traditional box score stats. The Blazers were 7.7 points better when he was on the court than when he was on the bench, according to Cleaning The Glass’ on-off metrics. No player on the Blazers had better on-off numbers that season than Covington, not even Damian Lillard (+5.3).
A slow start to this season for both Covington and the Blazers led to Covington losing his starting position after 26 games. His averages are down across the board. In 29.7 minutes per game, Covington is averaging 7.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 1.3 blocks and shooting and 34.3% from 3.
He started playing better in mid-December, though. In 18 games since Dec. 19, Covington has averaged 9.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 1.6 blocks and is shooting 37.0% from 3. This season, the Blazers have been 4.6 points better with Covington on the court, according to Cleaning the Glass.
The Blazers traded Gary Trent Jr. to the Toronto Raptors for Powell at the trade deadline in 2021. Powell, a 6-3 guard, was immediately inserted into the Blazers’ starting lineup. Because of the presence of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, he has played out of position, starting at small forward for the Blazers since his arrival. Despite his 6-3 frame, Powell often took on the defensive assignment against the opponent’s top wing. He was able to do this because of his strength (215 pounds) and length (6-11 wingspan).
Powell had a strong 27-game showing with the Blazers in the second half of the 2020-21 season, averaging 17.0 points and forming part of an effective five-man rotation with Lillard, McCollum, Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic that outscored opponents by 13.4 points per 100 possessions. In the offseason, Powell, 28, turned down a handful of teams interested in signing him as a free agent, returning to the Blazers on a five-year, $90 million contract.
Despite the less-than-ideal fit, placing Powell out of position at small forward with the Blazers, he was one of Portland’s most consistent offensive players since the trade a year ago, averaging 18.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.1 steals in 33.7 minutes per game, while shooting 45.1% from the field and 38.8% from 3.
"The Trail Blazers would like to thank Norman Powell and Robert Covington for the many contributions they made on the floor and in this community," Portland interim general manager Joe Cronin said in a news release. "Norman Powell scored 1,206 points in 67 games with us with a beautiful blend of explosiveness and efficiency. Robert Covington's unique talents shined with his impressive mix of 214 3-pointers, 175 steals and 147 blocks in 118 games. We wish both guys the very best moving forward."