The L.A. Clippers will have their best chance at an NBA championship since the heyday of the Lob City days, having acquired Kawhi Leonard and Paul George through a season-long free agency and a consequent blockbuster trade, respectively.
Yet much like their hallway rival Lakers, the Clippers will have to survive three main storylines through the 2019-20 season before they can shoot their shot at an NBA title.
3. The Kawhi Leonard-Paul George dynamic
While Leonard reportedly reached out to Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, and other players in hopes to field a potential partner-in-crime to bring to LA, he opted for George, who was unhappy in his current situation and willing to come back home for a shot to win it all with the Clippers.
Yet these two superstars have yet to play a single minute together on an NBA court and both have played the small forward position throughout their entire professional careers. That will likely force George to play at power forward for the bulk of time and while it shouldn’t matter in a now positionless style of basketball, it should present some changes for the MVP finalist, who will now have to guard bigger bodies on a nightly basis, which should reduce some of his length advantage over other small forwards.
On the Leonard front, he has yet to share the court with another superstar like George, who is at the peak of his prime. While The Klaw did play with Tim Duncan, he was already aging when Leonard started to come up as a star, and Duncan gladly ceded his shots to allow Leonard to flourish. That’s not the case with another young star with potential like George.
Yet neither Leonard nor George are high-usage players, but rather more efficient players capable of getting their own at both ends of the floor.
Their dynamic will ultimately dictate how far the Clippers can go.
2. Load managed?
Leonard has become the poster player for the infamous “load management” wave that took the NBA by storm in the past two seasons. He missed 22 games with the Toronto Raptors last season and looked considerably fresher for the postseason, which gave him an upper edge over other teams.
It’s unclear if the Clippers will have the same courtesy with Leonard, now a full year removed from missing 73 games in 2017-18 with the San Antonio Spurs after a quad injury. If Leonard is fully healthy, it would be strange to sit him and let George take over in his absence, considering how tight the race will be in this fortified Western Conference with many teams realistically vying for the top spot.
George has also had his share of offseason surgeries since fully recovering from that broken leg incident with Team USA and returning in the 2015-16 season.
The Clippers will need their full firepower for most of the regular season to lock up a high seed in the West, but if their two superstars need to be load managed on a regular basis, the team could suffer because of it.
1. An evident lack of size
Besides keeping Ivica Zubac with a long-term deal, the Clippers have very little size to help them, something that can be exploited if the Croatian big man gets in foul trouble or simply fails to perform according to expectations. LA can afford to play small due to their defensive brilliance with Leonard, George, and Patrick Beverley, but locking down the perimeter comes at the cost of leaving the rim vulnerable.
Zubac is the lone legitimate 7-footer in this roster, as LA only has two other players to thrust into that positions: two-way player Jonathan Motley (6-foot-10), and rookie Mfioundu Kabengele, who’s yet to play the center position in his career.
While Montrezl Harrell could see even more minutes than Zubac on a nightly basis (most of them at center), if one of both of the aforementioned are sidelined, the Clippers will find themselves force to fit a square peg in a round hole.
Harrell has an unmatched motor and gives great effort, but there is very little he can do at 6-foot-8 to stop the likes of Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, and other behemoths of the Western Conference.