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Clippers use trade deadline to continue youth movement, increase financial flexibility

Clippers use trade deadline to continue youth movement, increase financial flexibility
Center Ivica Zubac becomes the latest member of the Clippers' youth movement. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Less than 48 hours after shaking up the NBA with a late-night trade, the Clippers executed a flurry of moves leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline that, the team believes, leave their roster younger and more flexible both for the end of this season and ahead of a critical offseason.

The Clippers approached the deadline stressing the importance of pursuing moves that would help position the franchise as a long-term contender for championships.

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They emerged having added young players seen as potentially important pieces for that future while also removing salary from next season’s books.

The Clippers’ busy afternoon began with barely an hour remaining before the noon PST deadline by trading starting shooting guard Avery Bradley to Memphis for 6-foot-6 Garrett Temple and 6-9 forward JaMychal Green. No draft picks were included in the trade, which gave the Clippers 16 players on their roster, one more than the NBA’s roster limit.

Starting center Marcin Gortat, who'd called Tuesday's trade of leading scorer Tobias Harris a "shock" at the team's shootaround Thursday morning, was waived shortly after.

Half an hour before the deadline, the Clippers made their first trade with the Lakers since 1983 by sending stretch center Mike Muscala — who’d been dealt as part of Tuesday’s six-player trade with Philadelphia — to the Lakers in exchange for forward Michael Beasley and center Ivica Zubac. Beasley is expected to be waived.

Lastly, the Clippers waived guard Milos Teodosic. The Serbian struggled to find playing time in a crowded backcourt in his second NBA season.

In the short term, all that activity left the Clippers with 10 active players after calling up Angel Delgado from the G League affiliate for their matchup Thursday against Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The trades were not made as part of a larger roster teardown, however. Coach Doc Rivers said earlier Thursday the team planned to stay competitive the rest of this season even if it cost them their lottery-protected draft pick.

In the long term, it brought the team closer to the cap space needed to sign potentially two free agents to max-salary slots this summer. Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard and Golden State’s Kevin Durant are their top targets.

The team will have 14 players should Beasley be waived, though the team is not expected to be a player in the buyout market.

Bradley arrived in Los Angeles one year ago from Detroit as part of the trade that made Blake Griffin a Piston. Considered the team’s best on-ball defender, Bradley appeared in 49 of the team’s 55 games this season and endured a severe shooting slump for much of the season’s first two months before making 40% of his three-pointers in his last 12 games.

By trading Bradley, the team cleared the guaranteed $2 million it owed him next season off its books and in return received Green and Temple, who possess elements Bradley lacked: length and shooting. Neither player is under contract next season, either. It also removed a logjam in the backcourt, opening a clearer path to playing time for rookies Jerome Robinson and Landry Shamet.

While the Lakers sought to add shooting around LeBron James and wanted Muscala for that reason, the Clippers were seeking a young, inexpensive post who can protect the rim. Zubac, should he start, would also allow the Clippers’ undersized sparkplug center Montrezl Harrell to continue in his effective role off the bench. Zubac, 21, will be a restricted free agent this summer and is seen as potentially part of the team’s young core moving forward along with point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Robinson and Shamet.

Thursday’s moves followed Tuesday’s late-night blockbuster that sent Harris and reserves Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott to Philadelphia in exchange for Muscala, Wilson Chandler, Shamet, first-round picks in 2020 and 2021 and second-round picks in 2021 and 2023. The 2020 pick belongs to Philadlephia and is lottery-protected for three years, and the 2021 first-round pick, from Miami, is unprotected. The second-round picks are owed via Detroit.

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