When the Clippers gave up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a raft of first-round draft picks back in 2019, it was pretty clear that the front office was committing to the idea that the team they had already built, now led by two superstars, could compete for a championship.
A number of members of the organisation have looked to distance themselves from the championship-or-bust narrative down the years, but the idea that a core led by two 30-plus year olds in Pat Beverley and Lou Williams, alongside the two new guys in their late 20s, had time on their side would seem at least a tad naive.
Allowing Montrezl Harrell to walk in free agency was further indication that they believed that a more experienced core could carry them to the promised land, and while the Clippers haven’t necessarily rethought that process — they’ve already moved to re-sign Kawhi Leonard (30), Reggie Jackson (31) and Nicolas Batum (32) — there are signs starting to creep in that they’re looking to the future.
Terance Mann is the only player on the roster that the Clippers had drafted and retained in the past three years out of a total of five potential pick-ups. That has changed drastically this summer with the announcement of guaranteed rookie deals for Keon Johnson, Jason Preston and Brandon Boston Jr. before any of them had pulled on game day threads.
So why have the Clippers gone so big on their new guys? Could it be that they’re loading up their roster with potential trade pieces to go get another superstar that could take them even further than their record-breaking but ultimately heart-breaking 2020-21 season?
All of the noises coming out of the camp would suggest not and that they genuinely believe in the potential of Johnson, Preston and Boston, but then I guess the front office would never want to come out and lay all their cards on the table when it comes to potential trades either. That’s just not good business.
Yet it’s still hard to escape the idea that these rookies in particular fit the culture that has been built; Johnson has already spoken about the importance of enjoying working hard every day, Preston’s story has become famous for the way he bet on himself to get to the league, and Boston will no doubt want to prove the doubters wrong after falling to a late second-round pick.
The franchise has already embraced each of them with the vote of confidence of signing all three to guaranteed rookie deals before so much as a Summer League game had been played, physically in the presence of the franchise’s stars at their first game and alongside them in the practice facility, and publicly by Lawrence Frank and Jeremy Castleberry.
However, it’s not just the new guys that the Clippers staff have shown their support for. Mann was rewarded with big minutes during the playoffs after Leonard went down with injury, and he exceeded their wildest expectations in return.
Perhaps Mann’s meteoric rise could be the reason the franchise has decide to turn one eye towards the future, whether they’ve decided that they can get good minutes and production out of younger guys around their core, or that they just want to continue to strengthen their pool of assets to be able to better react to whatever may come next.
Right now all eyes are on the Summer League and, despite a 0-2 start by the Clippers young stars, fans will no doubt be watching filled with positivity about the near future for some of those guys and the main roster, though that positivity won’t exactly be universal throughout the team in Vegas.
Amir Coffey is one such player whose near future isn’t yet secure as his qualifying offer would see him take up a 16th roster spot, and him re-signing would mean the front office would still have to find a way to shift one more body before the season starts. That roster bloating may further enhance the idea in the minds of some that the Clippers are stocking themselves up for a big trade, although the only plausible trade pieces they have with any serious value are either crucial rotation pieces or guys on big contracts that they may need to give up further picks to move on.
There are still a number of guys around the league that could fit into Ty Lue’s rotation if they decide to go big, with Pascal Siakam being one such name linked with a lucrative trade to the 213, but given Siakam’s stature in Toronto as a Champion, one-time All Star and former All-NBA second team member, the Raptors are likely to demand a big return for his services.
Ultimately the Clippers can’t afford to give up their full war chest a second time over and will need to bank on gambles to get them closer to the holy grail this time around, and what better gamble than youngsters coming out of college fighting to make their wildest dreams into realities?
If the Clippers can strike gold on just one of their three rookies, they’d have to believe that the future is as bright as the present seems to be.
And who’s to say that the future can’t start today?
Which Clippers rookie will be the biggest hit?
This poll is closed
Brandon Boston Jr