The Clippers Must Go All In Before the Trade Deadline

The Los Angeles Lakers bought the commerce season began on Monday by buying Rui Hachimura from the Wizards for Kendrick Nunn and three second-rounders, which may very well be the first of many strikes forward of the commerce deadline on February 9.

Only 5.5 video games separate the third-seeded Sacramento Kings and the Thirteenth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in the West, so nearly the total convention continues to be in the playoff hunt. The Lakers really feel that if Anthony Davis can get wholesome, they’ll make a run. But there’s nonetheless uncertainty about whether or not they’re prepared to—or ought to—transfer each of their future first-round picks.

The rival Los Angeles Clippers, on the different hand, do not face such a dilemma. They must go all in to attempt to win the championship now. Why? They’ve bought no different alternative. With their future draft picks mortgaged and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George probably turning into free brokers in 2024, the time is now.

It was a rocky begin to the season for Leonard, however he has progressively trended up and now resembles his pre-injury self. Over his final seven video games, he is averaged 29.9 factors with elite effectivity and 6.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.9 steals besides. It’s a small pattern, to make certain, and he is nonetheless liable to getting harm once more. But with Leonard trying like his previous dominant self, and George nonetheless taking part in at a borderline All-Star degree, it is apparent why the Clippers would really feel an urgency to go for the Larry O’Brien Trophy this yr.

The discuss round the NBA is that the Clippers are actively on the lookout for an improve over Reggie Jackson at level guard and a backup massive man behind Ivica Zubac. Despite the play of Leonard and George, the Clippers will nonetheless seem like phony contenders coming into the playoffs until they make enhancements.

Jackson hasn’t been very helpful since the 2021 playoffs, and John Wall was a worthwhile offseason gamble however has confirmed to be a a lot better interviewee than basketball participant in 2023.

Marc Stein reported on Substack that the Clippers have curiosity in Jazz level guard Mike Conley, who thought he can be traded to the Clippers earlier than the season. The Jazz are hanging round in the playoff race, however they’re first-round fodder higher off transferring their remaining veterans in order that they’ll fall out of the play-in and into the lottery, the place they intend to be in the first place. No matter what different strikes they make, it is seemingly that Conley, who’s 35, can be moved to a workforce that’ll give him a greater likelihood of profitable his first title.

Conley is an efficient match offensively for the Clippers as a result of he is a gentle playmaker who can thrive off the ball as a shooter and cutter. And though he has declined on protection, he is had some lockdown moments this season when he is resembled his prime self.

In the closing moments of a good win in opposition to the Pelicans final month, Conley poked away two inbound passes supposed for CJ McCollum earlier than snaking via three screens to cease McCollum’s scoring try. There have been ranges of velocity and consciousness on show that the Clippers have not seen from Wall or Jackson.

But different groups will pursue Conley too, that means that the Jazz will seemingly maintain out for the absolute best provide till nearer to the deadline. So LA should scour the remainder of the league. League sources say the Clippers are additionally interested by Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.

Lowry makes $28.3 million, and his decline with the Heat has been much more obvious this season than Conley’s dip with the Jazz. Conley ranks 84th in our Top 100 NBA Player Rankings, whereas Lowry fell out completely in the most up-to-date replace.

VanVleet, who’s at no. 76, is total the finest goal for the Clippers contemplating he is solely 28, he is a relentless on-ball defender, and he was an All-Star simply final season.

League sources doubt that the Raptors will transfer Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby until the return is big—assume two or three unprotected first-round picks or younger gamers of near-equal expertise—nevertheless it’s extra possible that VanVleet or Gary Trent Jr. can be moved since they’re much less gifted and may develop into free brokers this summer time.

Leonard and VanVleet received a championship collectively in Toronto and would seemingly excel once more in Los Angeles due to FVV’s means to thrive off the ball or reliably run level. VanVleet must be the Clippers’ prime goal, however even when they land him, they’re going to nonetheless want so as to add measurement earlier than the playoffs.

Although Zubac was posting All-Defensive-caliber numbers earlier in the season, he’s admittedly worn down from taking part in the most minutes of his profession. LA had a top-five defensive ranking over the first 30-ish video games of the season earlier than falling to the backside 5 over the previous 20 or so. Other than Zubac, the solely 7-footer they’ve is Moses Brown, who does not provide something on the defensive finish.

HoopsHype‘s Michael Scotto reported on Monday that Timberwolves middle Naz Reid has drawn curiosity from the Clippers and Nuggets. I’ve heard from league sources that the Nets have additionally inquired about Reid, so there can be competitors for him if Minnesota selected to maneuver him, though the value for the upcoming free agent would not be important.

The Clippers are seemingly priced out of buying an enormous man like the Pacers’ Myles Turner or the Hawks’ John Collins. A less expensive possibility can be Magic middle Mo Bamba, who has seen his minutes dip and who league sources say is available in a commerce.

According to executives round the league, the Clippers are additionally interested by their former backup middle Isaiah Hartenstein, who’s now with the Knicks.

LA tried to re-sign Hartenstein final summer time, however he went to New York for more cash and since he felt he was needed there. But sadly, not all free agent choices pan out the method you initially envisioned them.

The Knicks have blatantly misused Hartenstein as a rim curler greater than a playmaker, his earlier position with the Clippers. He had a 20.5 help share with the Clippers, in comparison with solely 5.1 % with the Knicks. Tom Thibodeau does not know easy methods to get the finest out of him, whereas Ty Lue has already confirmed he can. Getting again collectively is likely to be in everybody’s finest pursuits.

The Clippers haven’t got many high-value belongings to maneuver in trades. But very like the Lakers have been capable of outbid different groups for Hachimura, there are offers to be made at an inexpensive value. The Clips have solely their 2028 first-round choose to supply, however they nonetheless personal all their future second-rounders apart from 2027’s. Former second-round picks Jason Preston and Brandon Boston have each excelled in the G League; Preston has proven off his regular shot creation, and Boston is trying like a go-to presence. Both of them have worth that mirrors a high-to-mid second-rounder’s.

Stein says the Clippers “swat away exterior curiosity” in Terance Mann. It’s not shocking that groups would need him. Mann has established himself as a strong rotation wing, however he is nonetheless solely 26 and in the final yr of his rookie deal earlier than a two-year, $22 million extension kicks in subsequent season. Amir Coffey is on a team-friendly long-term contract and may very well be a pleasant addition to any provide, too. But neither of them have star-level upside.

The Clippers even have a variety of salaries to make the most of and probably mix to make nearly any incoming contract work. Wall ($6.5 million) and Jackson ($11.2 million) give the Clippers two expiring contracts to work with, whereas Marcus Morris ($16.4 million), Luke Kennard ($13.7 million), and Robert Covington ($12.3 million) can develop into free brokers in 2024.

For VanVleet, the Clippers may provide one thing alongside the strains of Kennard, Mann, Boston, a future first-round choose, and a second-round choose or two. Depending on the variety of gamers concerned, perhaps the Clippers may get somebody like Juancho Hernangomez again in a deal or work it right into a three-way to land a backup middle.

As at present constructed, the Clippers don’t resemble a contender. The level guard and middle positions are far too weak for the workforce to outlive a aggressive playoff collection.

Even although they can not financial institution on Leonard to remain wholesome, they do not have the rights to any of their first-round picks till 2027 and haven’t any alternative however to guess on Leonard’s best-case state of affairs. We’re seeing that best-case state of affairs proper now, and he seems to be like West Coast Michael Jordan once more. George is a prepared second possibility, and the workforce has loads of different good gamers. There are simply weaknesses that should be addressed.

The Lakers made their first transfer, and perhaps not their final. Other contenders in the West can be looking the marketplace for upgrades, too. But few groups, if any, ought to really feel extra strain than the Clippers; they’ve invested a lot on this core, and each Leonard and George have the means to develop into free brokers subsequent summer time. Time is working out.

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