With the trade deadline rapidly approaching, the question facing the Los Angeles Clippers is whether they should stand pat or make a move for Kevin Garnett to put them past the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference.
The benefits that come with bringing in Garnett are certainly incredible and should not be underestimated.
KG is one of the best big men in the game that can play with his back to the basket. He is among the smartest post defenders in the game and one that instantly raises the defensive presence of all of his teammates.
Garnett is among the better distributing big men and would compose a formidable front line alongside Blake Griffin. Despite being 36 years old, Garnett still posts an above-average PER of 19.49.
His ties to the city and organization have also been noted.
Despite the experience and competitive spirit that Garnett brings to the table, making a move for him in the next 10 days would be a bit hasty for a team ready to win both now and in the future.
Frankly, a deal of this caliber would most certainly involve Eric Bledsoe, especially with the ACL injury to NBA All-Star Rajon Rondo.
Trading Bledsoe would signify that the Clippers believe 100 percent that Chris Paul will sign a long-term extension this offseason.
While all indications suggest that CP3 will remain in red, white and blue for the long haul, free agency is a precarious market, and an organization that saw franchise cornerstone Elton Brand bolt just five seasons ago should not concede its insurance should Paul take his talents elsewhere.
Over the weekend, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein evaluated the All-NBA point guard's likelihood of staying (via ESPN.com):
"As one source close to the situation put it this week when asked to grade the Clips' chances of retaining CP3, keeping in mind Paul's well-chronicled love of the Hollywood scene and the fact that this team was good enough to reel off 17 wins in a row earlier this season: 'I'm saying 99.5 percent.'"
Perhaps the best way to deal with that 0.5 percent is to win the title, or at least a Western Conference crown, this season.
That would certainly be the Clips' intention by going all-in at the deadline and bringing in Garnett.
The cruel reality of the top-heavy Western Conference is that only two teams can advance to the Western Conference Finals, despite the three juggernauts, the Spurs, the Thunder and the Clippers.
If the playoffs started today, then the Clippers would be the No. 3 seed and open the postseason against the Golden State Warriors (a team that won the regular-season series 3-1).
That means that advancing out of the first round would most certainly feature a semifinals date with either the Spurs or the Thunder.
Are the Clippers capable of winning a playoff series on the road in either San Antonio or Oklahoma City?
This is where Garnett enthusiasts can make a compelling argument.
Tim Duncan and the Spurs swept the Clippers out of the playoffs in the semifinals just a season ago.
Although the Clips have won the first two regular-season games against their Texas adversaries, the Spurs really earn their stripes in the postseason.
Garnett is certainly capable of defending Duncan and could put the Clippers over the top in that series, but is that calculated gamble worth parting ways with Bledsoe before having a guarantee on Paul’s future?
As it stands now, the Spurs and Thunder are in a class of their own; even with the acquisition of Garnett, the Clippers may not be able to defeat either.
Garnett also has leverage in this situation.
The no-trade clause in his contract gives him the power to veto any deal. While the Clippers may provide new opportunity for the big man, his past loyalty to the Minnesota Timberwolves suggests that jumping ship in a time of crisis is not how he operates.
If anything, Rondo's injury might be more reason for Garnett to stay in Boston.
When trade rumors started to swirl, Garnett emphasized his commitment to the C's (via The Boston Globe):
"I love my situation here,' [Garnett] said before referencing reports that linked him to potential trades to the Clippers or the Nuggets. "But I bleed green and I continue to do that and if it’s up to me, I want to retire a Celtic. I just want everybody to know that, all right?"
A skeptic must also point out the worst situation: What happens if the Clippers deal Bledsoe for Garnett and then lose out on Paul this summer?
Trading Bledsoe midseason takes away a significant amount of this team’s flexibility and point guard insurance moving forward.
Despite his success and comfort level on Lob City's vaunted second unit, Mini LeBron cannot afford to spend his career playing behind Chris Paul.
The Kentucky product’s rising stock might also give the Clippers better options at acquiring that final championship piece at a later date. Maybe the Clippers can obtain better value than Garnett for Bledsoe by weighing all of their options this summer.
When healthy, the Clippers are in the conversation for best team in the league along with the Thunder and the Spurs. Their undefeated December and recent evisceration of the Philadelphia 76ers and the New York Knicks on the road is a testament to that.
The allure of a Paul-Griffin-Garnett Big Three is enticing, but the Clips’ best move this season might be to hold on to its prized young point guard and look for trading partners this summer.