Oh boy it’s heating up in LA, and the Lakers aren’t the only team making the big moves. The promising young Clippers have opened up a couple of max contract spots and are looking to make a splash by signing their biggest free agent since Chris Paul.
The big signing that the Clippers are working towards is either Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant. As per the illustrious Woj (praise be to him), the Klaw and the Slim Reaper have been talking about teaming up together for the next season – with the Clippers hot in the mix. However if this falls through, the Clippers have a relatively difficult decision to make as to which superstar they want to pursue.
Kawhi is younger, a much better defender (as proven by absolutely shutting Giannis down in the Eastern Conference Finals this year) and still a ridiculously efficient shooter. He may rest games during the season, back-to-backs vs. lesser opponents or when there are 4 games in 5 nights, but the Raptors have shown that this resting tactic is worth it – he played a number of games against the Bucks basically on one leg.
He has achieved god-like status in Toronto but this may be their Achilles heel in re-signing him, Kevin O’Connor and Jonathan Tjarks from the Ringer Podcast, made the point that he is such a quiet and reserved dude that this fanfare may be a bit uncomfortable for him. If he moved to the Clippers he would still be a big name, but compared to LeBron, Anthony Davis and the potential third star that the Lakers have cleared space for, he can stay relatively low-key. His ties to Southern California are well documented and the majority of his family still reside in the area.
KD is going to be a massive risk for the Clippers (or any team) to sign, we just don’t know how physically capable he is going to be after the Achilles tear. From all reports, recovering from this injury is going to a minimum 12-month process so the chances of seeing the Slim Reaper back in action for the next season is about as likely as Shaq winning a 3-point competition.
Other players who have gone through this injury include DeMarcus Cousins, Kobe Bryant, Rudy Gay and Dominique Wilkins with mixed results on their returns. We’re still seeing how Boogie is recovering but the signs aren’t overly promising, he’s a step slow on defence and doesn’t have that quick first step that made him so scary in the post. If we use Boogie as a benchmark, it doesn’t look great for KD: he relies on his guard-like skills driving the skills to get to the cup with changes of direction and pace, something that is definitely going to be limited on return from injury. He is still going to be a deadly shooter and due to his length he doesn’t need the explosiveness in his legs to get his shots off with a defender on him, but the scoring champion and MVP level KD days may be behind him.
Other Wing Options
Wings should still be a focus for the Clippers if they can’t sign KD and Kawhi. The Clippers still have Danilo Gallinari (43.3% from 3 last season) but he is injury prone and a liability on defence. Snagging Bojan Bogdanovic from the Pacers would be a great pickup option, DeMarre Carroll could be signed to bolster the defence or the Clippers could go after Rudy Gay as jack-of-all trades (still shot 40.2% from deep, scoring 13.7ppg in 26 minutes per game). Moving the 6’10 Gallinari over to Power Forward with one of these wings would provide more switching versatility on defence in this wing-focussed modern NBA.
Another injured Warrior that the Clippers may want to look to sign is Klay Thompson. The Warriors have said they are wanting to sign both Durant and Thompson to long-term deals, how that is going to work with Steph signed to a $201m super-max, KD eligible for a super-max also and Klay asking for a $190m max is a mystery to me. Thompson has publicly announced that he is seeking a max deal and from reports just earlier today, it is looking like the Warriors are going to give him that max deal and he will stay with in Golden State.
In the rare case that Klay leaves the Warriors he would be a perfect fit in any offense in today’s NBA, a deadly shooter with great defensive skills and IQ. There will be questions on his physical ability after coming back from the ACL tear suffered in the finals, but everyone is hoping that it won’t affect his sweet stroke.
If the Warriors hold onto Klay, Jimmy Butler is definitely in the frame for the Clippers to sign. He has been rumoured (as per Mark Stein) to be interested in pairing with Kawhi in Southern California and would be an interesting fit for this Clippers team. Both players are happy playing on and off the ball, play excellent defence and can score inside and out. Personally, I think Jimmy would be a better signing than Klay as he is a more versatile scorer, can create plays on the ball and isn’t coming off any serious injury. Yes his personality can be described as ‘mercurial’ but his composure and mentorship shown on a young Sixers team is a promising sign and pairing him with possibly the most down-to-earth player ever to play in the association (Kawhi) may temper any Minnesota Timberwolves-eque outburst.
There have been talks of signing a star point guard such as Kemba Walker (who is likely going to Boston), D’Angelo Russell or Kyrie Irving (who is likely going to Brooklyn); but that would be a mistake for the Clippers. They have a promising young point guard in Shae Gilgious-Alexander; he didn’t put up outstanding numbers last season playing behind Patrick Beverley (10.8ppg, 3.3apg, 2.8 rpg, 1.2 spg and only 1.7 turnovers) but has shown a lot of promise and is only 21. The Clippers (probably) aren’t winning a championship in the next few years so let him take control and develop. If the Clippers want more depth in the point guard position, a cheap vet such as George Hill (waived by the bucks) or Jerryd Bayless (unrestricted free agent) may be the better option.