Since signing two-time NBA champion Kawhi Leonard in 2019, the Los Angeles Clippers have failed to make the NBA Finals.
This past season was particularly painful for the Clippers and their fans as the team missed the postseason despite having one of the most expensive rosters in the NBA.
Both Leonard and his co-star, Paul George, missed significant time due to injury. Leonard sat out the whole year recovering from an ACL injury. Now, the pressure is mounting for this duo as the Clippers fans (and owner Steve Ballmer) are anxious for them to finally deliver.
Here’s a look at moves the Clippers should consider during the 2022 offseason in order to improve their team and make a run at the NBA Finals.
Free Agency Strategy
Earlier in May, the Clippers made their first move in free agency by re-signing forward Robert Covington to a two-year, $24 million deal. Covington is an excellent “3-and-D” player who came over mid-season from the Trail Blazers. He’s expected to compete for a starting role and should continue to play big minutes for the Clippers next year.
However, after finishing 42-40, the Clippers are in clear need of more depth, especially inside the paint. The Clippers could look to extend an offer to keep Ivica Zubac, but it’s likely another team is going to be able to pay him more.
Find a Center
Instead, the Clippers could look to find a more traditional big man who specializes in rebounding and defense. Options include DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, and Andrew Drummond. Of these three, Cousins is likely a longshot considering he once sat on the Clippers bench.
Alternatively, the Clippers could also look to re-sign free agent Isaiah Hartenstein. Hartenstein provided solid rebounding off the bench during the 2021-22 season, and would likely be a cheaper alternative to Zubac (as well as being three years younger).
Need for a Guard
In addition to solidifying the center position, the Clippers may also want to explore another guard who can handle the ball and create shots for himself and his teammates. Right now, this job is mostly occupied by Reggie Jackson, who really carried the Clippers during George’s absence.
But the Clippers don’t have a great second option after Jackson. Two names that the Clippers should think about are Dallas’ Jalen Brunson and Cleveland’s Collin Sexton. Sexton is an intriguing option as he is coming off a torn meniscus and may be an affordable contract considering he’s recovering from an injury. He’s a former top 10 pick that is still only 23-years old with a ton of upside.
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NBA Draft Strategy
One area where the Clippers need to get better is drafting and developing talent. Since 2016, the team has only really found success with one draft pick, Terance Mann, who was drafted in 2019. Below are three players the team may have on their draft short-list with their lone second round pick.
Jamaree Bouyea is a four-year player from San Francisco who would come to the Clippers matured and experienced. He’s also coming off a solid 2022 season where he averaged 17.3 points on 47% shooting. The fact that he is older than most draft prospects, and possesses the ability to knock down shots when needed, makes him a solid second round target, especially for the Clippers.
JD Notae is another four-year college player who has the potential to earn a spot in an NBA rotation. Last year at Arkansas he averaged 18.3 points per game and was named First Team All-SEC. He’s another experienced player, making him a good target for the win-now Clippers.
Another SEC alum, JD Davidson was a young star for last year’s team at Alabama. Although he only averaged 8.5 points, he shot 46% from 3-point range. At age 19, Davidson has plenty of room to grow and could potentially develop into a nice wing player for the Clippers and provide spacing and shooting.
With the Clippers lacking a first round pick, it may serve them well to play things more conservatively so to speak and key in on a more experienced, NBA-ready player who has the chance to contribute sooner rather than later. Both Notae and Bouyea fit that mold and would be solid additions to the Clippers rotation next season.
Clippers Still Among Favorites
Overall, this is a critical offseason for the Clippers as their two franchise cornerstones are slowly moving towards the end of their prime and their championship window may be closing soon.
Oddsmakers such as DraftKings still value the Clippers — giving them +600 odds to win the title in 2023. That’s currently tied for the top with Golden State, Boston, and Brooklyn.
One or two moves this offseason could be all that is needed in order for the Clippers to return to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost in 2021 to the Phoenix Suns.
Icon Sportswire Photo/Jevone Moore