The season for the Los Angeles Clippers recently ended in catastrophic fashion after they gave up a 3-1 series lead in the second round. An underdog Denver Nuggets squad won three straight elimination games, only to take the series against a hapless LA side in Game 7.
Clearly, this is not how the Clippers envisioned their season following what was a monumental summer for them. Not only did they have the most successful offseason in franchise history, but by bringing in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George into the mix, they were able to form arguably the best roster the Clippers has ever fielded in any season. To say that a second-round exit is a disappointment would be a complete understatement.
It’s back to the drawing board for the Clippers this offseason, and once the dust settles on what was an undeniably frustrating campaign, this franchise will need to assess how they intend to move forward. Something obviously went wrong for them this season, and it is tantamount that they address this issue(s).
Can we expect some changes within this team in the offseason? That’s likely. Should these changes be of the franchise-altering variety? Probably not.
Simply put, the Clippers have a very, very formidable roster. To some degree, it was just a matter of this team lacking the necessary chemistry to succeed. As such, it wouldn’t be a completely terrible idea to enter the new season with pretty much the same lineup, with a potential upgrade here and there. This particular team now has a (relatively) full season under their belt — a year older and a year wiser, as they would say.
LA needs to keep its core intact, and by this we mean, Kawhi, George, and perhaps even head coach Doc Rivers. Their two stars have two more seasons remaining on their current deals, and both of them possess a player option for the 2021-22 campaign. As such, it should make it their first priority this offseason to sign both guys to an extension. Failing to do so runs the risk of either of these superstars (or at worst, both of them) walking away next summer, and in the process, setting back this franchise for years.
Once that’s out of the way, the Clippers will need to look elsewhere in the squad for a potential upgrade. During the playoffs, a number of their glaring weaknesses were exposed. For starters, this side looks like a legitimate playmaker away from taking the next step. Patrick Beverley is a great defender, while Lou Williams one of the best pure scorers in history. Nonetheless, LA does not have a true playmaking point guard on their roster. Reggie Jackson sure isn’t one.
In the second round, Nikola Jokic also pretty much single-handedly exposed how the Clippers struggle in the height department. Their starting center, Ivica Zubac, does not have what it takes (yet?) to bang with the best of them, and while Montrezl Harrell just won the Sixth Man of the Year award, at 6-foot-7, he’s clearly an undersized big.
These are two key areas the Clippers can start with. However, before that, they need to determine how they will be able to make such changes. They have limited cap space as it is, and they have several unrestricted free agents that will require an extension, so major signings via free agency is going to be difficult to say the least.
LA also gave up a ton of its future assets to the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer as part of the George deal, so that’s also something they don’t have going for them.
Here’s an idea: how about flipping Harrell for a playmaker? Granted, this is going to be tricky given how the 26-year-old is going to be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, but a sign-and-trade should still be a viable option. After all, it was the Clippers who gave Harrell a chance to excel in the NBA, and perhaps now would be the time for them to cash in on this — literally.
Having just been awarded the Sixth Man of the Year award, Harrell will require a significant bump in his salary, and the Clippers might not have the resources to meet his demands. At this point, he might potentially be LA’s most significant (or only?) trading piece.
There should be a number of reliable point guards that could be in the market in the offseason. A veteran like Derrick Rose from the Detroit Pistons would be a good option, although this will also highly depend on what type of moves Detroit pull off in the offseason themselves. Ricky Rubio of the Phoenix Suns could also be a good target, and perhaps even a younger gun like Lonzo Ball. Whoever the Clippers opt to pursue, what cannot be denied that an upgrade in the point guard spot seems like a great place to start for them.
This one move probably won’t solve all of LA’s problems all in one go. Among other things they still have a dilemma at the five with Harrell potentially out of the picture, but they could always bank on Zubac’s development. Signing a backup five via free agency could also be an option, and so will a possible trade using some of the Clippers’ few remaining assets.
Losing Harrell will be a blow, but it might prove to be a move that will make this team better in the long run. It will be a considerable risk, but at this point, this team should be willing to shake things up a bit.