The NBA is a smart league. Whether they are guiding this narrative or not, the fact that we are in the thick of an exciting and unpredictable NBA finals series, yet free agency news abounds every day, is what is bringing this league near neck-and-neck with the NFL. The NBA has truly become a part of the full 12-month sports news cycle, and they like it this way. We are getting stories and reports on players buying property in cities (or not buying?), tracking their every moves, who they are hanging out with, what family members are saying, and what big market teams are going to do to restore (or start, in the Nets case) their franchises to glory.
The biggest name in this upcoming free-agency market, Kawhi Leonard, is in the news for his stellar play thus far in the playoffs, but also because everyone and their mother want to know where he will reside next season. With Kawhi leading the Raptors to astounding success this season, all this talk of potential movement is just a Mount Everest pile of speculation at this point. However, what is occurring from a Clippers’ perspective is a worst case scenario. Leonard is thriving for a franchise and a city that wants to adopt him as their own, and that are laying out the red carpet for him. Kevin Durant’s playing career could be massively effected due to his Achilles injury Monday night, and his free-agent future is now completely thrown awry. Meanwhile, there is zero guarantee the Clips get the two players they covet the most this summer. Despite having scouts at nearly every Raptors game this season and even inquiring about purchasing Leonard’s signature “Klaw” logo from Nike, Leonard could stay put up North and try for more rings in the Eastern Conference.
Despite dropping quote after quote praising L.A., having an established relationship with Steve Ballmer, and already being in the state of California, Durant has long been rumored to be a near done deal to go east and play for the Knicks or Nets. Now, with the prospect of not being able to play potentially next season, does he opt into his 2019-20 player option and get ready for next summer? Ballmer has to be sweating uncontrollably right now.
Where does this leave the Clippers? Yes, they shocked everyone this season and won 48 games despite not having a single all-star, past or present, on the roster. However, running it back was never the goal, and while it’s not the end of the world if it does happen, this is a franchise that wants to contend for rings now. The good news? The Clippers have one of the smartest front-offices in the league with an owner that will spare no expense at making this team better and putting out a consistent winner. While we shouldn’t expect any panicky moves from this team, the Clips do need to improve and attain some more talent to keep up the momentum they’ve built this season. We need to take a look at who the Clippers should (and shouldn’t) target in free-agency beyond the two big names they’ve made obvious they are gunning for. First, let’s look at needs the Clips should be looking to shore up going into 2019-20.
By trading Tobias Harris and waiving Luc Mbah A Moute, the Clippers only had one small forward on their roster down the stretch, the aging Wilson Chandler. While the Clippers went small (and were successful late doing so) in the starting lineup with Landry Shamet and/or Beverley taking on the wing role, it did hurt the team that their only three with size wasn’t someone who will be on the roster come next year. This has been a recurring theme with Doc Rivers-led Clipper teams. Mbah A Moute was a consistent starter during the “Lob City” era despite being an offensive zero. They never upgraded this position (the Lance Stephenson, Jeff Green and Josh Smith pickups were disastrous), and it led to playoff disappointment and a constant headache for Clips fans. Now, with Chandler being an FA, the Clippers literally don’t have a SF on the current roster. While Kawhi or another FA will more than likely fill the starting spot, having another wing on the roster would help a ton.
Backup Point Guard
The only true point guard currently on the roster is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. With Patrick Beverley being a free-agent this summer and a bunch of guards on the roster who are more apt for a “combo guard” title (i.e. Ty Wallace, Lou Williams, Jerome Robinson), obtaining a true backup PG for this season would help. This would preferably be a veteran with deep playoff experience or someone who knows how to win and fit into a system. Obviously, Clippers fans would prefer that Beverley re-signs with the Clips, but all bets are off in Bev’s first free-agency in the NBA.
The trade for Ivica Zubac at the trade deadline in February showed the brilliance of the Clippers front office and the dumpster fire quality of the Lakers. After letting DeAndre Jordan walk and whiffing on Marcin Gortat, the Clippers obtained a better, younger, rim-protecting big who was huge in getting the Clips into the playoffs. Zubac is a restricted free-agent this summer and will be getting offers from teams, especially with how he played in a big market for two high-profile teams. Zu is still young and has a lot of work to do. He will improve, but how much? Are we sure that he is the center of the future for L.A.? With the league rapidly moving towards a four-out, even five-out system where a big needs to be able to stretch the floor and run, Zubac hasn’t quite shown yet an ability to do either at a high level. While I do think that the Clips will match any offer thrown his way, along with giving Montrezl Harrell significant minutes, there is a world where the Clips are down to Harrell and two-way players in Angel Delgado and Johnathan Motley if Zu goes elsewhere. If the Clips strike out on guys like Kawhi or KD, going the route of acquiring a franchise guy at the 5 could be an interesting one.
Scrappy/Identity Fit Types
The Clippers’ “grit and grind” mentality of this season could quickly become a thing of the past if they decide to move on from guys like Beverley and JaMychal Green. With the acquisition of free-agents like some of the stars available, the dynamic will change. However, it is always smart to have scrappy players who aren’t afraid to do the dirty work. Beverley was the lifeblood of the Clips organization this season and should absolutely be a priority for the front-office. If Bev walks, it would then be imperative to maintain some type of toughness on this team. While L.A. still has Montrezl Harrell to be the aggressor in the 2nd unit, adding more of this energy is important for the identity of this franchise.
With these needs being at the forefront of my own personal thinking when penning this piece, let’s take a look at some free-agents the Clips should target if they miss out on Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant. This article will be the first in a three-part series on free agency, with this piece focusing on some “prizes” the Clippers could get even if they miss on Kawhi or KD. The next two will look at more under the radar pickups and potential panic moves, respectively. For now, here’s who I want the Clippers to look into if Kawhi and KD are off the board.
Klay Thompson - SG/SF, Golden State Warriors
Stats (2018-19): 21.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists in 34 minutes. Splits of. .467/.402/.816
Previous contract: 4 year/$68,979,450
Free-Agent Status: UFA
Needs met: Star-level talent, shooting, wing depth, identity
Summary: Duh, right? Klay Thompson on the Clippers makes a whole bunch of sense given that he’s an LA native who would fit seamlessly in an offense that would almost immediately become a top-3 three point shooting team in the league if he joined. He’s an elite two-way wing who is a surefire first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, and is still well within his prime. The likelihood of this happening is very small given that the Warriors can offer more money than any other team this offseason and are still a powerhouse, even without KD. But, you never know in this crazy NBA world. Nabbing Klay would soften any blow of missing out on other stars and would make the Clippers better in an instant.
Malcolm Brogdon - Combo Guard, Milwaukee Bucks
Stats (2018-19): 15.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists in 28.6 minutes. Splits of .505/.426/.928
Previous contract: 3 year/$3,782,562
Free-Agent Status: RFA
Needs met: Wing/PG depth, all-around talent, identity
Summary: Brogdon would be just about the most perfect fit alongside SGA that I could think of in this free-agency class. Just as SGA and Patrick Beverley co-existed well, despite both being ball-handlers, Brogdon has tons of experience both on and off-ball and is a 50/40/90 guy who’s only 26. Yes, he’s coming off back-to-back injury plagued seasons, but when Brogdon is on the floor he completely changes the trajectory of games in favor of his team. With two-way abilities and an offensive package that includes elite shooting, point-guard skills, and high basketball IQ, Brogdon should be highly coveted this summer. The problem with this? Brogdon is only restricted and the Bucks will probably match any offer sent his way unless a team pays Malcolm superstar money which, with his injury history, is unlikely. However, if the Clippers could lure Brogdon away from Milwaukee, he would be a huge get, and would upgrade an already stellar backcourt, especially if Bev decides to walk.
Bojan Bogdanovic - SG/SF/PF, Indiana Pacers
Stats (2018-19): 18.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists in 31.8 minutes. Splits of .497/.425/.807
Previous Contract: 2 year/$21,000,000
Free-Agent Status: UFA
Needs Met: Wing depth, shooting
Summary: Bogdanovic is the type of spread out, knock down shooter who can elevate a team without having the ball in his hands much. Bogdanovic is another guy who, if added, would make the Clippers one of the more lethal outside shooting teams in the league alongside Gallo and Shamet. He is the perfect fit at the three for L.A.: able to score from anywhere and move off-ball extremely well. While his defense does leave something to the imagination, Bojan is in his prime right now and is one of the better shooters in the league. He’s the kind of plug and play scorer that can fit on damn near any team, and L.A. would be fools to not at least inquire about his services. Also, out of the players who are in this free-agency class, Bojan might be one of the better value pickups because his market isn’t as high as others. He won’t be demanding max money, yet his numbers are near-all-star level. He also has playoff experience and seems like a high character guy.
Nikola Vucevic - C, Orlando Magic
Stats (2018-19): 20.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists in. 31.4 minutes. Splits of .518/.364/.789
Previous Contract: 4 year/$53,000,000
Free-Agent Status: UFA
Needs Met: Big, star-level talent, shooting
Summary: This pick is kind of a hot take. Yes, Vucevic got schemed out in the playoff series against the Toronto Raptors. Yes, he could have just had a fluke contract year season. Yes, his defense is questionable. However, Vooch is a 7-year vet who is only 28 and has career averages of 15.7 points and 10.1 rebounds. The dude is a flat out double-double machine with exceptional range, post moves for days, and is coming off a career year where he made his first All-Star team playing for a team that gets no national attention. His rim-protection skills aren’t crazy impressive, but he did improve his defense last season, and really showed that he can be a go-to option offensively for a good team. The fact remains: the Clips need a big. Yes, we all love what Zu brought to the table last year, but if the Clips strike out on superstar free-agents, a guy like Vucevic would be a great fit because he can man the middle and also shoot the hell out of the ball, all while providing star level production. He wouldn’t turn the Clippers into championship contenders, but he certainly would improve our 2nd weakest position and make the team better.
Honorable mentions: Khris Middleton (UFA), Brook Lopez (UFA)
Middleton and Lopez are two additions that would help in the Clips two positional problem areas and would also help with shooting prowess. Both of them are also solid defenders but nothing to really write home about. Lopez is a good rim protector but a suspect rebounder for a seven-footer (rebounding was a HUGE struggle for L.A. last season) and will be 32 by the end of next season. He will be more than likely looking for a multi-year deal to solidify his paying future and I don’t think L.A. would want to give him the deal he’s eyeing.
Middleton is an intriguing player due to his two-way skill, his emergence as an All-Star and a guy that seems like he can fit into any system. He could honestly be included in this list as well but I feel like fit-wise, someone like Bogdanovic could really improve the outside shooting of this team and add some size to the perimeter, and will come much cheaper than Middleton, who will likely demand a max.
What do you all think? Who would you like to see the Clips go after if they can’t nab Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant? Do any of these names appeal to you?