Clippers poised to make more moves before NBA trade deadline

Robert Covington brings the ball up court while playing for the Trail Blazers.
The Clippers acquired two Trail Blazers wing players, including Robert Covington.
(Luis M. Alvarez / Associated Press)
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Having spent almost half an hour outlining the championship intent behind the Clippers’ latest trade, Lawrence Frank, the team’s president of basketball operations, left an interview inside their Playa Vista practice facility before stopping to talk with coaches and players as practice began. He then presumably returned to his second-story office and got back on the phone with other teams.

The NBA trade deadline was five days and four hours away, and the additions of wing players Norman Powell and Robert Covington from Portland aren’t expected to be the Clippers’ last.

“Roster building is very much ongoing,” Frank said Saturday morning.

In Frank’s five years guiding the front office at the deadline, the Clippers have a record of being extraordinarily active and that will continue as the team follows its overarching plan to build around its two best players in pursuit of a championship run when Kawhi Leonard and Paul George return from injury rehabs.


Doing that doesn’t necessarily mean adding a point guard, Frank said, though trading Eric Bledsoe to Portland along with rookie Keon Johnson, forward Justise Winslow and a 2025 second-round pick on Friday left the Clippers without a primary ball handler off the bench. Coach Tyronn Lue yelled to reporters as practice began that Terance Mann will fill that role for the time being.

“Instead of saying point guard, I really look at ‘play starter,’ ‘play finisher,’ ‘connector,’ ” Frank said. “And look, our two best players have the ball in their hands 60% of the time. And point guards, as you know, what a point guard was 20 years ago ... is different than today.”

The Clippers trade for Portland’s Norman Powell and Robert Covington in exchange for Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, Keon Johnson and a draft pick.

Feb. 4, 2022

The Clippers are looking for specific skill sets, not a body type.

“I don’t even call it a point guard. It’s like, OK, can we find a guy who can do these skill sets that maybe relieve some of the burden on Kawhi and Paul?” Frank said. “And guess what? That player can be a forward. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a quote-unquote point guard.”

Powell, the 28-year-old former UCLA guard who won a championship in 2019 with Toronto alongside Leonard, isn’t a point guard. Instead, he fits the team’s strategy to, as Frank said, “double-, triple-, quadruple-down on players that fit around” Leonard and George. Powell’s play in Portland offered a window into his fit as a complementary wing: When sharing the court this season with Portland’s own star duo, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Powell made 42% of his three-pointers while getting to the free-throw line at a higher rate than when he played and they did not.

George, who has not played since Dec. 22 because of a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, was seen shooting with his left hand before Saturday’s practice. His MRI exam on Feb. 24 will not be the “ultimate decision-maker” in whether he returns this season, Frank said. Similarly, Leonard’s timeline for a return — seven months since undergoing knee surgery — remains hazy.

“No one knows; he doesn’t know,” Frank said. “But all you can do is just every day continue to control what you can control and see how he responds. Literally nothing has changed and I know it’s probably a frustrating answer or response but it’s just the reality. We don’t know.”


Though standing 6 feet 3, Powell has a wingspan of 6-10¾, which should allow Lue to play smaller lineups without fear of defensive switches. That skill set led Portland to offer Powell a five-year, $90-million contract last summer, but the front office that signed him is no longer in charge in Portland, and interim general manager Joe Cronin jettisoned his contract to create long-term financial flexibility.

The Clippers don’t have such flexibility. By acquiring Powell, owner Steve Ballmer agreed to add nearly $20 million to the team’s luxury tax bill, bringing it to more than $112 million this season. Frank praised the owner as “all in.”

“We never thought it was realistic for us to get a player like Norm Powell for a team that won’t have salary cap space for a long, long, long time,” Frank said. “It’s really, really hard to get players like Norm, who are under a long-term deal, who are in their prime.”

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

Covington is a 31-year-old forward who plays multiple positions and whose best asset is his help defense. He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, leaving the possibility that his expiring salary, worth $12 million, could be packaged in another trade before the deadline — or he could be insurance for the upcoming summer, an option to re-sign should the team’s depth at forward thin either by Nicolas Batum declining his player option, or Marcus Morris Sr. being moved in a trade, which one NBA insider said was believed to be a possibility.

“One of the many things that I’ve learned is you can never have enough wings,” Frank said. “And the reason why versatility is so important is the ability to play different positions.”

Veteran Serge Ibaka, who has received irregular minutes as the third center in Lue’s rotations, remains a prime candidate to be moved, along with his expiring, $9.7-million contract, but Frank described scenarios in which he remains with the team through the season’s end. Yet that, like so many things in the next week, is subject to change.


“We will continue to look for opportunities to enhance the team,” Frank said. “Whether it is Serge or other situations.”



When: 6 p.m., Sunday

On the air: TV: Bally Sports SoCal, NBA TV; Radio: 570, 1330

Update: The Bucks are playing for the second consecutive night after Saturday’s game in Portland. Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging nearly 29 points and more than 11 rebounds this season. … Clippers rookie guard Jason Preston had hardware removed from his surgically repaired foot two weeks ago, Frank said, but the team will remain cautious with his recovery.