The Clippers, Nuggets, and Hawks have reportedly agreed to terms on a three-way trade, according to ESPN.com. Los Angeles will receive a signed-and-traded Danilo Gallinari (on a three-year, $65 million deal) in exchange for Jamal Crawford, Diamond Stone, and a first-round pick; Denver will receive a 2019 second-round pick in exchange for Gallinari; and Atlanta will receive Crawford, Stone, a first-round pick, and cash considerations in exchange for a second-round pick.
Once the Clippers secured Blake Griffin’s return—on a five-year deal, no less—the scorched earth option was off the table. A team with Griffin is no longer one that should wait idly by for the summer of 2018. Enter Danilo Gallinari, a combo forward whose arrival guarantees a different sort of Clippers team. There was little use in seeking out direct replacements for Chris Paul or J.J. Redick, two of the best in the league at what they do. Instead, the Clippers chased after the kind of dynamic small forward that the Lob City Clippers never had.
It took some doing. There wasn’t a particularly realistic course for the Clippers to actually clear enough room under the cap to sign Gallinari outright, which is what led the way to a sign-and-trade. All it took to grease the wheels was the first-round pick acquired from Houston in Chris Paul’s departure. As it stands, the CP exit deal will have landed the Clippers a new starting point guard and at least two useful reserves while facilitating Gallinari’s acquisition. It also got the Clippers out from under the $17.3 million (at minimum) owed to Jamal Crawford between this year and next. That’s quite a landing as far as these things go.
But the Clippers, even with Gallinari, will be a distinctly worse team than they were a season ago. They’re also guaranteed to be a bit weirder; running the offense through Griffin on a full-time basis will tilt the Clips away from convention. Much of Doc Rivers’s offense over the past few years has been relatively safe. Paul controlled much of the offense. Redick stuck to his curls and DeAndre Jordan to his lobs. Griffin showed his versatility but never had an opportunity to truly flex it, save when Paul was out of the lineup with injury. Change will come by necessity, but Gallinari accelerates it. Having ball handlers at both forward spots (and a natural off-ball option like Patrick Beverley at the point) opens up all sorts of offensive variants. The pick-and-roll combinations among the frontcourt players alone should be enough to throw many opponents into a matchup cyclone.
Between Griffin, Jordan, and Gallinari, the Clippers already have most of their frontcourt rotation covered. Griffin can shift to center and Gallinari to power forward, with a stopgap center and wing sliding in as needed. Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker, both acquired in the Paul sign-and-trade, are decent candidates. Making all the pieces fit—and maximizing them along the way—will demand some real finesse on Rivers’s part.
Where the Clippers start is straightforward enough. But Gallinari is a part-time power forward on a team that already has a star power forward, and his minutes at the four are a significant part of what makes him valuable. Rivers, for his part, has never been one to deliberately stagger the minutes of his team’s best players. Maybe the positional proximity of Griffin and Gallinari will nudge Rivers toward a different approach, but at minimum the Clippers will occasionally snag on the want to play both forwards in the same spot.
Still, Gallinari is really good. Casual fans seem to glaze over everything that happens in Denver, so let’s contextualize his output: Gallinari scored about as many points per minute as volume scorers like Derrick Rose and Rudy Gay, albeit with the efficiency of Paul and LeBron James. He turned the ball over as often, proportional to his usage, as catch-and-shoot specialists like Klay Thompson. Gallinari got to the free throw line as often as Kevin Durant and John Wall. He shot better from three than Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
Many of those players are clearly better than Gallinari, though as a composite they show just how Gallinari’s scoring game pops. He’s not available as often as you’d like and doesn’t rebound as well as one might expect. Even still, to get that kind of streamlined offense out of a forward who at least competes defensively is a big get. It just might not be the right get, given where Gallinari plays his best basketball and what the obligation of his salary does to the Clippers' outlook for 2018.
Gallinari was gone from the moment that Denver prioritized signing Paul Millsap. That makes the Nuggets’ involvement here strictly extracurricular; by playing a part in getting Gallinari where he wanted to go (and to a franchise that didn’t have the cap room to sign him otherwise), Denver gets a 2019 second-round pick originally owned by the Wizards. A chip that minor won’t change the Nuggets’ fate, though it could play a role in another transaction as soon as this summer. The trade buys goodwill and a draft pick for no real cost at all.
Atlanta’s interest in Jamal Crawford is strictly as a means to an end. His was a salary the Clippers needed to move. Obliging means getting something in return: a first-round pick, a closer look at Diamond Stone, and some cash for their trouble. This is how rebuilding teams can make use of their cap space. Premier free agents don’t exactly line up to play in Atlanta under the best of circumstances, much less after the team bails on its best players. So it can effectively rent out that space by eating unfavorable contracts for compensation. The Hawks might not even wind up paying Crawford’s full $14.3 million salary this season and $3 million guarantee for next season. Should Crawford want to play for a more competitive team (as has been reported), a buyout would make sense for both parties. The catch is whether Crawford really wants to give enough back on his deal for Atlanta to give up the kind of contract that could be flipped in another, similar deal down the line.