The Clippers are in a bit of a hazy situation this season.
On the one hand, they have a veteran roster that just advanced to the Western Conference Finals and expects to continue making deep postseason runs. Their coach Ty Lue has never done anything as a head coach except make deep postseason runs.
On the other hand, they are missing their best player Kawhi Leonard for what could be the whole season, and now they are without their second-best player Paul George for an indeterminate period of time. Thus the haze.
And the uncertainty regarding George’s return has led Jake Fischer to report that the Clippers could turn into sellers at the trade deadline instead of gearing up for a playoff push. As Fischer notes, “While the team’s initial announcement on Christmas Day stated George would be re-evaluated in 3-4 weeks, the Clippers are operating under the possibility that George may not return this season, sources told B/R.”
Reporting from Farbod Esnaashari of AllClippers.com suggests that George is still a ways away from being ruled out for the season, but that still falls in line with Fischer’s assessment that “George may not return”.
I spoke to multiple sources within the Clippers and Paul George has not been re-evaluated yet. While there is a chance he could potentially miss the season due to surgery, nothing can be determined until at least his next evaluation.— Farbod Esnaashari (@Farbod_E) January 13, 2022
Even if George returns but Leonard doesn’t — which is possible despite his “ahead of schedule” rehab — the Clippers won’t be in legitimate position to contend for a title. As a result, regardless of the circumstances surrounding George, the front office electing to become a seller at the trade deadline makes sense, unless they are absolutely certain that Leonard is ready to play at a playoff level. The Clippers can get rid of players who won’t fit on a title team and make more time for their young players to expedite their development.
Fischer notes the possibility of a Marcus Morris Sr. trade since Morris, who has two years left on his contract after this one, can fetch an asset. However, the logic of that makes little sense since Morris has proven his worth in the postseason.
It would be more reasonable to move Eric Bledsoe and/or Serge Ibaka. Bledsoe unfortunately has years of proof that his game does not translate well to the postseason, even if trading him would make the Clippers worse in the regular season. Ibaka simply hasn’t looked like the same player since returning from back surgery, and the Clippers have Isaiah Hartenstein for the time being. Even if Ibaka is a theoretical fit around the team’s two stars, he hasn’t shown that level of play in a very long time.
On the HoopsHype podcast, Michael Scotto and Yossi Gozlan also theorized that the Clippers could move on from Justise Winslow to save on the luxury tax, but that seems a bit premature, even if Winslow hasn’t exactly dazzled this season.
At the very least, the Clippers need to make some move to clear a roster spot, because they need to hold on to Amir Coffey. Even if they’re punting away their postseason chances, getting Coffey on the 15-man roster could prevent him from being an unrestricted free agent this offseason. If the Clippers can create a spot and save luxury tax in the process, that’s a double win.
The Clippers have generally been active at the trade deadline under this front office, so the expectation is for that to continue, even if a move deliberately makes the team worse in the present.
More news for Thursday:
- Wenyen Gabriel, on his second 10-day with the Clippers, and Terance Mann have a bond that goes way beyond their time in Los Angeles.
- A little late to this, but Daynia La-Force talks about her son Terance on the excellent Court-side Moms podcast.
- Law Murray relives the win against Denver in 25 parts for a 25-point comeback.
- Marc Stein advocates for higher salaries for G Leaguers.