Clippers acquire Norman Powell, Robert Covington in trade with Trail Blazers

Trail Blazers guard Norman Powell tries to score on a layup against Lakers center Dwight Howard.
Trail Blazers guard Norman Powell, shown attempting to score on a layup against Lakers center Dwight Howard on Wednesday at Arena, will join the Clippers after a trade was finalized Friday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Will Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both return this season?

That answer’s hazy.

But from the time the Clippers’ All-Star forwards began their injury recoveries, in July and December, what always was clear is that when both are indeed back at full strength, the team’s front office intended to surround them with players they believed could help the Clippers contend for deep postseason runs, not just for one season but several.

It was why the Clippers swung a deal to acquire a switchable wing player on a long-term deal who already knows what it is like to win a championship alongside Leonard.


The Clippers acquired Portland guard Norman Powell and forward Robert Covington in exchange for a package that few before the deal would have considered an offer the Trail Blazers might accept, trading backup point guard Eric Bledsoe, reserve forward Justise Winslow and rookie guard Keon Johnson, along with a 2025 second-round draft pick belonging to Detroit, the team announced Friday

The Trail Blazers’ motivation appeared to be financial, as the deal moved them underneath the luxury tax threshold. Backed by the wealth and title-hungry ambitions of owner Steve Ballmer, however, the Clippers were willing to add nearly $20 million to their tax bill, bringing it to around $112 million, in order to add the flexibility for more moves ahead of Thursday’s trade deadline while making Powell the deal’s centerpiece.

Powell averaged 18.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.6 turnovers this season in Portland, and his scoring gives the NBA’s 26th-ranked offense a short-term boost — the Clippers have suffered because of long offensive droughts since George was sidelined in December — and a compatibility alongside Leonard and George that the Clippers believe could pay dividends in the long run.

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue says star forward Kawhi Leonard will probably not play for the team this season as he continues to recover from ACL surgery.

Feb. 4, 2022

The 31-year-old Covington, a 6-foot-7 wing averaging 7.6 points and 5.7 rebounds who can play small-ball center but is more of a combo forward, is on a $12-million contract that expires following this season, money that could prove useful for matching salaries in future deals. The Clippers already have other wings who fit his position, including Nicolas Batum and Marcus Morris Sr.

The team also has the expiring $9.7-million contract of center Serge Ibaka. Asked whether he would be content playing irregular minutes as the Clippers’ third center after the deadline passes, Ibaka said he would be a professional but did not explicitly say yes.

“I’m going to leave everything in God’s hands because I believe in him and … my part is just to be a professional and keep working and take care of my body, my mind. That’s all I can control,” Ibaka said.


The trade opened a roster spot, with the Clippers now having 14 standard contracts. That creates an opportunity to convert Amir Coffey, a two-way wing who has become vital in recent weeks, to a standard NBA contract and hold onto him for longer.

To get Powell, the Clippers gave up Johnson, a 19-year-old rookie with explosive athleticism drafted in the first round in July. Winslow had become an important part of the center rotation in recent weeks with his downhill drives, but his spot in the rotation was limited when the team was at full strength. Bledsoe had fulfilled a backup point guard role to the Clippers’ liking, but his contract is only partly guaranteed next season, making him a stopgap measure to solidify the Clippers’ backcourt with durability and scoring but not a foundational piece. Still, by trading Bledsoe, the Clippers — 27-27 and eighth in the Western Conference standings — could be in the market, whether by trades or buyouts, for another lead ballhandler.

Six months after signing a five-year contract worth $80 million that expires following the 2025-26 season — one season after the contracts of George and Leonard are set to run out — Powell, the 28-year-old from San Diego who played at UCLA and won the 2019 championship in Toronto alongside Leonard and Ibaka, looks like a long-term complementary piece. He’s envisioned as a player who can take tough defensive assignments and spot up next to Leonard and George as a three-point shooter.

Powell has made 40% of his three-pointers while shooting a better percentage (43.8%) on catch-and-shoot threes, the kind of shots Clippers coach Tyronn Lue’s offense aims to create as a byproduct of drives into the paint.

The Lakers erase a 17-point deficit in the second half to take a pair of one-point leads late before Reggie Jackson gives the Clippers a 111-110 win.

Feb. 3, 2022

When could that Powell-George-Leonard connection become reality? George, who has not played since Dec. 22 because of a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, will undergo an MRI exam Feb. 24. And one month after Lue described “optimism” around Leonard possibly returning from a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, the coach cast doubt on that prospect following Thursday’s short-handed, 111-110 victory against the Lakers — an offhand comment that became the Clippers’ strongest statement about Leonard’s status this season.

“The enjoyment I get from this team — we know Kawhi’s probably not gonna come back, we don’t know the status of PG, but these guys continue to keep fighting, every single night,” Lue said of his players in the lineup.


Asked to clarify his comment, Lue said he was “not a doctor” while reiterating that “hope is stronger than fear.”

“So I’m hoping that these two guys can come back,” Lue said, before leaving his postgame news conference. “But, you know, you never know. So that’s all I got to say, man.”