The Los Angeles Clippers came into the 2019-20 NBA season with championship expectations.
Many tabbed the Clippers as the favorite to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy. At the very least, the mere notion of a “Battle for L.A.” in the Western Conference Finals had basketball fans salivating.
Of course, it never happened.
The Clippers had success during the regular season, though reported internal turmoil in January would be a sign of things to come.
Los Angeles came apart against the Denver Nuggets in the conference semifinals, losing its grip on a 3-1 series lead. The epic collapse eventually resulted in the team moving on from longtime head coach Doc Rivers and prompted chemistry questions.
Indeed, the Clippers have acted like a team desperate to initiate a culture shift. The roster has already seen a bit of a shakeup, and it is unlikely Los Angeles is finished.
In the meantime, let’s break down the moves the Clippers have made and assess what they have been able to do this offseason.
Realistically, Los Angeles’ offseason appeared to begin in earnest before the draft, given its reported interest for acquiring Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook.
But the Phoenix Suns made the most aggressive move to acquire Paul from the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Houston Rockets are not showing their hand with respect to Russ. Thus, the Clippers went into the draft with little to show for their offseason.
However, LA managed to stay very busy on draft night.
The Clippers pulled off a three-team deal in which they sent Landry Shamet to the Brooklyn Nets and Rodney McGruder to the Detroit Pistons in order to acquire Luke Kennard from the Pistons. Four second-round draft picks were also acquired along with Kennard.
This was an excellent move for Los Angeles. Shamet was a reliable floor spacer for the Clippers, but offered little other value. McGruder was strictly a role player.
Kennard, meanwhile, has big upside in LA. The former Duke standout played just 28 games last year, but still appeared to make a big leap in his third season. Kennard averaged 15.8 points, 4.1 assists and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 40.0 percent from deep on 6.5 attempts per game.
The 24-year-old can make plays in the pick-and-roll or take defenders off the dribble with an assortment of pull-up jumpers. Kennard has a sneaky handle and is deceptively shifty, which allows him to get into the lane and make plays for others.
Most importantly, Kennard will be ready to fire at will. He was 42.2 percent from beyond the arc on catch-and-shoot attempts, good enough for 15th (min. 28 GP, 15 min, 3.0 3PA) in the league, according to NBA.com.
Kennard gives the Clippers a legitimate sniper capable of being a secondary ball handler and a decent shot creator. That is a huge boon for a team that needed perimeter shooting.
There are some concerns about Kennard’s health (hence the second-round picks), but if he stays healthy, he will be a dangerous weapon.
Moreover, Los Angeles actually nabbed an excellent asset in the second round, selecting former Minnesota center Daniel Oturu.
Oturu was a monster for the Golden Gophers last year, averaging 20.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per contest. Additionally, he grew bolder in testing his range, hiking his 3-point attempts up to 1.7 per game while converting on 36.5 percent of those attempts.
It is entirely possible the Clippers have a bigger plan for Oturu, especially if they happen to find great value for Ivica Zubac.
Indeed, Oturu can rebound and protect the rim. His upside as a stretch big makes him that much more playable as a guy who can step out for jumpers or dive to the rim in pick-and-roll.
The Clippers did not have a lot to work with on draft night, but they still managed to gain value.
What LA did — and did not do — in free agency could come to define the team’s season.
The Clippers made the decision to stray away from reigning Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell (who signed with the Lakers) in exchange for veteran big man Serge Ibaka.
From the outset, this actually appears to be a massive upgrade.
As productive as he was in the regular season, Harrell really struggled in the playoffs, especially on the defensive end of the floor. He also helped stir up some of the tension in the locker room.
Los Angeles should get veteran leadership and then some from Ibaka. The 31-year-old had an excellent run in Toronto with the Raptors, seemingly elevating his play each year.
Ibaka averaged a career-high 15.4 points last season, also chipping in 8.2 rebounds per game. He is not quite the rim protector he used to be in his Thunder days. However, Ibaka is still a dependable interior defender who has consistently improved as a pick-and-pop option who can also score in the paint via an assortment of floaters and jump hooks.
It would seem Ibaka is actually a better option for LA in the half court, especially given the addition of Kennard. He adds more spacing, which should also loom large for Zubac or whoever holds down the center spot.
The Clippers also re-signed Marcus Morris for four years and $64 million.
It was necessary to bring Morris back in order to preserve frontcourt depth. The deal itself is an overpay for a guy who is unlikely to be much more than a floor spacer and defensive presence in LA. Still, Morris brings value with his positional versatility, and the 3-point percentage should trend up again.
The one negative of the offseason has been the total failure in landing an impact point guard.
Not only did the Clippers fail to pull off a trade for a star like Paul or Westbrook, but they also came up empty in their pursuit of Rajon Rondo.
It is certainly possible LA is still on the hunt for a backcourt playmaker. Marc Stein of The New York Times recently reported rival executives expect the Clippers to attempt to trade Lou Williams, who is on an expiring deal. Patrick Beverley and Zubac could both be on the move, depending on the return value.
The Clippers were always more likely to add on the margins considering the absence of cap space and draft capital.
But LA did a pretty good job of nabbing a couple of guys in Kennard and Ibaka whom appear to be excellent fits and could be upgrades in their respective roles.
A point guard would certainly be nice, though the Clippers could be hard-pressed to find a quality playmaker at this stage.
Still, the Clippers might flip Williams in an effort to recoup some draft value, which would still be a small victory.