When the Los Angeles Clippers started gathering up younger players in the offseason, the basketball romantic in me wanted to believe it was all about succession planning. Get in a few guys who can give us some production now, learn from some of the best the league has to offer, and eventually become the stars of tomorrow for the 213. Often it doesn’t work that way, the business can be more ruthless, but also the progress of young players isn’t linear and — as this season has shown in abundance — nothing is guaranteed.
The injury woes that began during last season’s playoffs have shown no signs of subsiding. Just as reports suggested that Kawhi Leonard could return before the end of the season, rumours circulated that Paul George could be out for the duration. It leaves the franchise in a limbo that they are used to at this stage, but one that they wouldn’t have expected coming off the back of a record-breaking Western Conference finals appearance last time out. The questions are all around, the most pertinent of which is: should the Clippers stick or twist?
Sticking with what we have is the easier option and suits the sentimentality aspect of my basketball support. This is, after all, a team that we have all grown to love and feel like we have been through a lot with. To lose any aspect of that will hurt. The twist option holds many different potential avenues. Simply put, would Lawrence Frank and the front office look to become buyers and try to cement that playoff place in case they can get their stars back for the postseason? Or would they rather be sellers and gather up a few more assets for an even bigger push when both guys are back to full health?
Although the franchise have been buyers for a number of years now, there has rarely been a time since the arrivals of Leonard and George in which they’ll have felt they’ve had more to offer in the trade market. The gathering up of younger guys and strong role players gives them more ammunition to go out and do some deals. Given they have no cap space to make any bold moves in free agency next summer, they may feel a few trades at this stage will suit them — especially since it will give any new arrivals time to adapt to their surroundings before a bigger push next campaign.
The market is a problem, though. There are so many teams that will feel they are within an earshot of contention this season and they’ll also be looking for that final piece of the jigsaw to take the leap. The names the Clippers have been linked with so far have done little to inspire, even Lou Williams linking himself with a return to his former stomping ground did little to convince this nostalgic soul that it was a move worth making.
Sideways steps, such as the trade that saw Williams end up in Atlanta, suit nobody on this side of the arena formerly known as STAPLES Center. The idea of going for veteran guards such as John Wall, Goran Dragic, or Eric Gordon don’t feel like moves that make that position significantly stronger either.
So do they become sellers instead? In Terance Mann, Luke Kennard, Ivica Zubac, Brandon Boston Jr., and Isaiah Hartenstein, the franchise will feel like they have a group of young guys they can trust. They could, therefore, be looking at some of their veteran players as expendable, with a view to gathering up some assets to go even bigger while giving Leonard and George more than enough time to recover. It feels a bit like ripping up the current blueprint, but the basketball gods have been cruel to this franchise in recent times and it could reach a point where it feels like the only response. Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward.
As a supporter, my head and heart are locked in a tug of war over all the possible outcomes, and that’s unlikely to subside until the Clippers make a move or let the trade deadline pass them by. This front office has been giving us plenty of reasons to trust their movements off the court for a while now, but if the on-court disruption continues, they may need to redouble their efforts. It’s crunch time for this franchise once again, and the next move could be the difference between banners or empty rafters in the Intuit Dome.