This offseason for the Clippers was supposed to be all about running it back.
It got off to the best possible start in that sense, when they re-signed the two guys fans were worried might move where the money was after big playoff performances. Then Kawhi Leonard being signed up for another four years felt like an end to any of the minor uncertainty around his future.
All three signings were statements of intent. We felt as though with a healthy roster the Clippers could’ve gone all the way last season, and it was clear the front office felt the same, even with the injury to Kawhi this time around. They even signed Justise Winslow to a two-year deal to strengthen the squad that bit further. Any questions we had were answered resoundingly.
Yet Lawrence Frank and Co. weren’t satisfied with just stopping there. Though Patrick Beverley and Rajon Rondo were the headline outgoings in the trade to the Memphis Grizzlies, Daniel Oturu was also snuck in as part of the deal. His departure now leaves the Clippers with just two centers on their roster, one of which is of course the injured Serge Ibaka.
Oturu wasn’t a guy who anybody thought was the future of the franchise. It felt like a pick made in the mould of Mfiondu Kabengele, as another undersized center who wasn’t particularly adept at stretching the floor, and the Clippers gave up on Oturu about as quickly as they did with Kabengele. However, Oturu moving on does leave a hole in the Clippers center rotation, and they don’t exactly have a heap of cap room or trade pieces to find a guy who can fill it.
Ivica Zubac will be expected to play big minutes next season as the starting center, but there will be concerns about the load placed on him. During the 2020-21 regular season, the Croatian carried took on large minutes in the absence of Ibaka and, with Oturu and DeMarcus Cousins not trusted with big minutes, he eventually broke down in the playoffs.
Since there’s no timeline for Ibaka’s return, maybe clearing Oturu out and making room for a more experienced guy who we can trust will ease that burden on Zu isn’t such a bad thing. With that in mind, perhaps the easiest thing for them to do would be to bring back DeMarcus Cousins, especially given the scoring and energy Boogie gave us off the bench in crucial moments in the playoffs.
Cousins’ biggest problem was on the defensive side of the ball though, and while we could probably find ways to negate that in the regular season as we wait for Ibaka to recover, that could become a problem again come the playoffs if Ibaka isn’t back with us. For every big bucket he made during his playoff minutes, it felt like his lack of mobility defending the high post gave the other team one right back.
So perhaps more Nicolas Batum small ball is the answer. Nico was effective on both sides as a stretch five, knocking down timely buckets in big moments and allowing the Clippers to play exactly the way they wanted to against Kristaps Porzingis and Rudy Gobert. Surely he can be the guy we go to if Zu struggles to find his rhythm again.
The problem with that is the knock-on effects it could have down the rest of the rotation. Batum playing the five means more pressure on Marcus Morris Sr. to have a big night on both sides while playing big minutes, and would also likely see Batum having to shift between the two positions and increase the strain we’d be putting on the Frenchman.
Without Kawhi to play some undersized four, there’d be no truly suitable power forward options who could easily fill that void. They could choose to slightly repurpose Winslow or re-sign Amir Coffey to do the same, but both would come with their questions of their own.
While this season was always going to be a balancing act for Ty Lue and his staff, dealing with a reduced roster just by virtue of holding onto two injured starters, it does feel like there’s still another question for the Clippers to answer. Oturu definitely shouldn’t have been the answer to that question, but it does increase the impression that the next move this front office makes will need to be another big one.
Isaiah Hartenstein is one of the names who has been linked with a move to STAPLES, after the team had a representative watch him work out in Las Vegas last week. He’d likely find a bigger role in L.A. more appealing than a return to play behind Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen in Cleveland, but he doesn’t exactly come with the kind of pedigree to suitably back up Zu and work in place of Ibaka.
The team should also be looking for locker room harmony, and there’s a strong argument few could embrace that more than Cousins. During the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Suns, Cousins told the media: “It’s just a good culture fit. We understand each other. Everyone respects one another. Respect each other’s opinion, each other’s space. It’s just a smooth organization.”
Any move will take some tinkering, and we all know that Ty loves to do that and does so to great effect, but he’s going to have his work cut out for him this season especially, with no indication on when he will be able to welcome Kawhi and Ibaka back.
There are always questions to answer, and ultimately when the chips are down the Clips show up. Whether it be Boogie, Batum or bringing in another big to anchor that position, the front office are yet again presented with a chance to show their stripes at the negotiating table.
What should the Clippers do at center?
This poll is closed
Give big minutes to Batum
Go get another big man
Other? (Let us know in the comments)