The Portland Trail Blazers executed a pretty underwhelming trade yesterday, sending out Norman Powell and Robert Covington for modest returns from the Los Angeles Clippers—Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, and Keon Johnson—plus a second round pick. The deal also created a $6.5 million trade exception.
For many, the instinctive reactions to the package were disbelief and disappointment. Both totally reasonable feelings. The only thing I would say to these people is, there are still five days left before the trade deadline, let’s not jump to any premature conclusions and call for anyone’s head to roll. I honestly can’t believe some are calling for an Interim General Manager to be sacked after one deal.
You probably already know Eric Bledsoe. Steve Dewald wrote a nice piece on Keon Johnson yesterday. So let’s take look at Winslow. You remember him? That Duke guy taken — amid much fanfare — by the Miami Heat with the 10th pick in 2015.
The Boston Celtics reportedly offered the Charlotte Hornets four first round picks to move up from pick 16 to snare Winslow. Somehow the Hornets said no and chose Frank Kaminsky with the ninth pick, possibly one of the biggest mistakes in the franchise’s short history. Miami got their man.
A bigger wing, a decent defender with genuine ball handling skills but without much of a shot, Winslow has shown glimpses of talent and production. His biggest obstacle has been his body. During his six full seasons in the league, the 25-year-old has averaged roughly 44 games a season, battling knee, hamstring, quadriceps, ankle, back and hip issues.
But before the injuries derailed Winslow’s early career, his numbers weren’t completely awful — his 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons stand out in particular.
While the pre-Jimmy Butler Heat remained a middling Eastern Conference team during this two-year stretch, Winslow began to deliver on his draft hype.
In 2017-18, he became a presence off the Miami bench, contributing 7.8 points on 38 percent three point shooting and 42 percent from the field. He also averaged 24.7 minutes in 68 games to go along with 5.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 0.8 steals. The team finished sixth, losing in the first round to the Philadelphia 76ers in five games.
By 2018-19, Winslow was predominantly a starter, finishing the year averaging 29.7 minutes and 12.6 points on 37 percent three point shooting and 43 percent from the field. He also put up 5.4 boards, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals in 66 games however the team missed out on the playoffs, finishing 10th in the east.
After five years in South Beach, Winslow was dealt to the Memphis Grizzlies at the 2020 trade deadline before signing with the Clippers as a free agent last summer.
A year later, a hip injury kept him out of the Grizzlies’ Orlando Bubble campaign. He was then used sparingly in Memphis during the 2020-21 season.
In August, he signed with a Clippers team still waiting for the return of Kawhi Leonard. Unlike his Heat and Grizzlies tenures playing small/point forward, Winslow has spent the past 37 games almost exclusively at power forward or small-ball center at around 12 minutes a night. This could be a reason why his three point shooting has been relatively dismal at 17 percent this season.
Depending on what happens over the next few days, Winslow will almost certainly be given as many minutes as he can handle at the four with Portland’s frontcourt rotation currently consisting of Jusuf Nurkic, Larry Nance Jr., Trendon Watford and Greg Brown III.
Financially, the left-hander is no burden on the payroll, owed $3.9 million this year and almost $4.1 million next season.
The Blazers probably won’t mind running an experimental frontcourt, though. They still have a lot of work to do to contend with the likes of the Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder who are still streets ahead when it comes to ping pong ball odds.
If Portland has any real chance at claiming Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren or Paolo Banchero in June, the losses need to pile up. Currently owning the ninth worst record in the league, the Blazers would have a 4.5 percent chance at the number one pick if the draft was held today.
Fans are allowed to feel down about the trade but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet. The 2021-22 incarnation of the Blazers is not yet complete, with Interim General Manager Joe Cronin himself telling The Washington Post’s Ben Golliver that the trade was setting the team up for more moves.
“Cap flexibility. The opportunity to clean our books up a little and just create more opportunities for this coming week and beyond, through the draft and free agency.”
Winslow will probably stay in Portland the rest of the season and will see a heck of a lot of court time while he’s here. He has a unique skillset that really hasn’t been able to shine since his penultimate season in Miami.
Winslow is a big body for the Blazers. He can defend, facilitate and, if the situation is right, score. If anything, an opportunity with a re-tooling team might be the best way for him to rehabilitate his reputation and improve his trade value this summer, a win for both Winslow and the Blazers. He’s also still young with plenty of time to get his body right and his shooting percentages back up.