by Scott Mandel
Today, we’re looking at the LA Clippers.
2018-19 season record
48-34 (8th in the Western Conference)
Projected 2019-20 season record
55-27 (tied for 1st in the Western Conference)
Kawhi Leonard (free agency)
Paul George (trade)
Maurice Harkless (trade)
Patrick Patterson (free agency)
Mfiondu Kabengele (draft)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (trade)
Danilo Gallinari (trade)
Wilson Chandler (free agency)
|PG||Patrick Beverley||Lou Williams|
|SG||Paul George*||Landry Shamet||Jerome Robinson|
|SF||Kawhi Leonard||Maurice Harkless||Rodney McGruder||Terance Mann|
|PF||JaMychal Green||Patrick Patterson||Mfiondu Kabengele|
|C||Ivica Zubac||Montrezl Harrell|
* George is hoping to return “November-ish” from offseason shoulder surgeries
3 key storylines
What will Kawhi Leonard do for an encore?
Leonard is coming off of the best season of his career. While he missed more than a quarter of the regular season, mostly due to load management, he had a historic postseason that culminated in the Toronto Raptors winning their first-ever championship.
Leonard has since seen his stock go through the roof, with our NBA.com Staff ranking him as the best player in the league entering the 2019-20 season.
With that comes high expectations. Not only are the Clippers expected to finish with the best record in the Western Conference next season, they enter the season with the second-best odds to win the title.
For the Clippers to live up to that hype and potentially win their first championship in franchise history, they’ll need Leonard to be every bit as good as he was last season.
There’s some history on the line for Leonard as well. If he adds another Finals MVP to his trophy case, he’ll become the first player in NBA history to win the award on three different teams.
When will Paul George return?
And more importantly, what will Paul George look like when he does?
Like Leonard, George is coming off of the best season of his career. In averaging 28.0 points per game and leading the league with 2.2 steals per game, he received the third-most votes for both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year.
George didn’t finish the season on a particularly strong note, though. Due in large part to a shoulder injury, he saw his production decline in the final 18 games of the regular season. He then struggled with consistency in Oklahoma City’s first-round series with the Portland Trail Blazers in the playoffs, combining for 19-for-61 shooting (31.1 percent) in three of the five games.
George has since undergone surgery on both of his shoulders and is expected to miss the start of the season, eyeing a “November-ish” return.
Having parted ways with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and a boatload of draft picks to acquire him, the Clippers are betting big on George being more like the player he was in the first half of last season when he does return. If he can, the Clippers could very well have the best duo in the league in George and Leonard. They might even have the league’s best defensive duo since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
The center position
If there’s one position the Clippers are lacking depth heading into the season, it’s centre.
They have two viable options in Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell, but it remains to be seen if they can handle their own against the league’s best centres. Zubac played well after the Clippers acquired him last season, but he’s both young and inexperienced. Harrell, meanwhile, was a finalist for Sixth Man of the Year last season but he’s undersized at 6-foot-8, making it tough to matchup with the likes of Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic and Anthony Davis – three players the Clippers could very well face in the playoffs.
The Clippers appeared to have Joakim Noah in mind for their final roster spot, but Sean Deveney of Heavy reported that his workout with the team ahead of the season was postponed. If Noah doesn’t end up being the answer, their best options on the free agent market are Amir Johnson, Marcin Gortat and Salah Mejri.
The Clippers could otherwise look to make a trade at some point of the season or wait to see if anyone gets bought out. They’d certainly be able to make a compelling case to any free agent, offering both minutes and an opportunity to compete for a title.