The Los Angeles Clippers brought in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George two seasons ago to win a championship. That hasn’t happened yet. Los Angeles was upset in the bubble by the Denver Nuggets in 2020. Then last year, they lost to the Phoenix Suns with Leonard on the sideline. A bright spot the Clippers can take from the loss is that George showed up in the series. He scored at least 21 points in every game, including a series-high 41 points in Game 5.
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Leonard signed a four-year, $176.2 million extension this offseason. However, he won’t be available for the start of the season later this month (torn ACL). There’s still no timetable for his return. Nicolas Batum and Reggie Jackson also returned on free agent deals.
As for the rest of the offseason, it involved plenty of additions and subtractions. The Clippers traded Patrick Beverley to the Memphis Grizzlies for Eric Bledsoe in August. Los Angeles lost DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo to free agency. In the draft, the Clippers selected Brandon Boston Jr. out of Kentucky after drafting Ohio’s Jason Preston. Neither will be getting much playing time because they were selected by a contender.
The Starting Five
PF-Marcus Morris Sr.
The starting five for the Clippers obviously doesn’t include Leonard for the beginning of the season. Coach Tyronn Lue knows it’ll be crucial to focus on the group on the court. “We’ve got to coach the season like we don’t have him,” Lue told reporters recently. While Beverley is also a big loss personality-wise, Jackson and Bledsoe are solid guards. Jackson, like George, showed up in the second round last year, earning himself a nice contract. The 31-year-old scored 20 points in four of the six games. Bledsoe meanwhile has a history of staying healthy, which is what the team needs.
Morris and Batum are going to share playing time because they’re nearly identical stat-wise. Both are 6’8″ and 32 years of age. They both average about four rebounds and shoot 47% from the field. Because they’re alike, it gives Lue the opportunity to use the player who is fresher. Zubac is healthy essentially every game and averages about nine points and seven rebounds a game.
Most people look at Leonard’s injury as the reason the Clippers won’t be a high playoff seed. However, their bench could help compensate for Leonard’s absence with Serge Ibaka and Justise Winslow. Both combined to average 13.9 rebounds and 20.1 points per game last season. Terance Mann and Luke Kennard are going to give the Clippers seven or eight points off the bench.
One Potential Move to Make
It’s hard for the Clippers to make any certain move because they’re already $57+ million over the tax threshold. Making a move to improve the small or power forward position won’t do much because that player will be on the bench, assuming Leonard returns. Management knows they will be a good team on paper when they get Leonard back. Therefore, as long as Leonard returns for the end of the season, they should be in good shape.
Even without Leonard, the Clippers are more talented than most teams in the west. They fit right in the middle of the playoff teams. The teams better than the Clippers are the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, and Denver Nuggets. Golden State is in the same situation as the Clippers with Klay Thompson still out. The Dallas Mavericks have Luka Doncic and not much else. Same goes with Damian Lillard and the Portland Trailblazers.
Season Prediction: 44-28, Fifth Seed in the Western Conference
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