The overzealous cheers of Steve Ballmer in 2019 had fans hyped; heck, it had everyone hyped. In one fell swoop, the Los Angeles Clippers had gone from a side reeling after the end of Lob City to potential championship contenders with the signings of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. The years since have not been full of the same pomp and circumstance. Injuries, buzzer-beater alley-oops, ‘Way off’s from Mike Breen, and injuries again. The golden Clippers’ side never came close to materializing their destiny. But in that seemingly objectively journey of misery, some nuances and signs point to potential. The Clippers may finally be back.
How did we get here?
The truth is, nobody likes a superteam. That notion came with the Clippers when George left the Thunder on a sign-and-trade, and Leonard departed from Toronto mere months after winning a championship with them. Naturally, it didn’t sit well with the fans. Their dismal performances in the postseason only fueled fans to shower the team with ridicule.
However, it all seemed to take a turn when Leonard picked up a knee injury in the 2021 playoffs that would rule him out for the subsequent season. After that, there seemed to be a sense of balance, an underdog mentality for a once-touted superteam. The new head coach at the time, Tyronn Lue, had mastered adjustments, and with George and Reggie Jackson leading the team, they made a valiant push only to lose to the Phoenix Suns.
Last season showcased the brilliance of George as he dominated before suffering a torn elbow tendon that would rule him out for 51 games. Their push for a playoff spot ended with a play-in tournament loss.
No longer a superteam, the Clippers had finally developed, its players having figured out their role and how it would contribute to an overall synergy.
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The only major offseason move the Clippers made was the acquisition of John Wall, who has had a torrid journey from being a star with Washington to now. Injuries led him to Houston, where he was eventually iced. His contract was bought out after he exercised his player option. Having made his money, Wall joined the Clippers on a 2-year, $13.2 million deal. It is hard to gauge what he can bring to a contending side. It has been years since we have seen him truly compete. However, there is optimism that after some adjusting, the trio of George, Leonard, and Wall could perhaps be the best defensive three in the league.
The departure of Isaiah Hartenstein will be a blow to the side’s depth, but their usual small-ball style offers them plenty of lineup options.
The Starting Five
PG – John Wall
SG – Paul George
SF – Norman Powell
PF – Kawhi Leonard
C – Ivica Zubac
Their lineup is abundant with craftiness, each player capable of contributing on both ends of the floor. Wall will look to bring his incisive drives, which open spaces for scorers at the perimeter. The duo of Wall-Gortat in Washington offers hope that he could unlock the next step for Zubac. Leonard may have his playing time staggered initially, but his success is well-documented, as is the case with Paul George.
Depth is crucial for the Clippers, considering the health record of their stars. Jackson, while struggling last season, will have a role more suited for him off the bench. With his perimeter shooting, Luke Kennard can potentially be a contender for sixth man of the year. Nicolas Batum will continue to be an important cog in the team. Terance Mann is yet to break through but certainly has the potential to blossom. Marcus Morris and Robert Covington will continue to be defensively astute while being important offensively as well.
Expectations are high, but not nearly as high as they were when the duo was formed in 2019. The team has gained experience in the playoffs in spurts, never truly having the opportunity to flourish together. Fascinatingly, their roster has been curated to cater to different aspects of a game. Barring health being an issue, the Clippers have one of the most comprehensive teams in the league.
Their ambition will be to compete for the championship. Time isn’t on their side, with most of their roster on the unfavorable side of circumstances and age. It could well come together. If it does, we could be bearing witness to a team that could challenge for the elusive ring.
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