When last seen, the Clippers were … limping off the floor in mental pain after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets and also their grip on respectability. It was a devastating, embarrassing second-round exit by a team considered a strong title favorite, one made possible by poor shooting from Paul George, disappointing play from bench stars Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams and ultimately a weak response when times got tough in the bubble. Actually, the Clippers never developed continuity all season because of injuries and Kawhi Leonard’s load management. It cost Doc Rivers his job and caused the franchise to conduct some intense soul searching. Once again, even with the addition of George and Leonard the previous summer, the Clippers had to deal with dogged demons and a stigma that always seems to haunt the franchise, no matter the circumstances.
What’s new? The trade for George in the summer of 2019 cost the Clippers a bevy of Draft picks and other assets, so they weren’t dealing from a position of strength this offseason when searching for change. Still, they managed quite well, given the handcuffs. The only questionable subtraction was their refusal to keep Harrell, who bolted for the Lakers in free agency. To offset the loss of the Sixth Man Award winner, the Clippers signed Serge Ibaka. They also swung a deal for Pistons swingman Luke Kennard. Plus, Marcus Morris signed an extension; he was one of the few bright spots in the playoffs. And finally, Ty Lue was elevated from top assistant to replace Rivers. Lue is a respected voice in the locker room.
What’s missing: The glaring need for a creative point guard was never addressed in the offseason. Patrick Beverley is known for defense, not for his playmaking. Because of that, the Clippers will rely heavily on Leonard and George to handle the ball and create shots for teammates, though Kennard can help in that area. Also, the only low-post option is Ivica Zubac, the young center who made reasonable strides last season. It’s possible the Clippers could add a piece or two during the season to satisfy one or both of those needs.
POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE
Kawhi Leonard | 27.1 ppg, 7.1 rbg, 4.9 apg
You wonder if one of the game’s greatest two-way players will still require nights off.
Paul George | 21.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.9 apg
A consistent star must overcome a shocking collapse in the bubble and restore his image.
Ivica Zubac | 8.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 0.9 blk
Developing big man had moments last season and always comes to work.
Serge Ibaka | 15.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.4 apg
Solid and consistent, he can play both power positions and also guard multiple positions.
Patrick Beverley | 7.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.6 apg
Veteran remains a solid defender but offers little pure point guard skills.
Luke Kennard | 15.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.1 apg
Versatile swingman should enhance LA’s outside shooting and some of the playmaking.
Marcus Morris | 10.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.4 apg
Emerged as a reliable shooter in the playoffs and serves as team enforcer when necessary.
Lou Williams | 18.2 ppg 3.1 rpg, 5.6 apg
Delivered another stellar season as sixth man before disappearing in the playoffs.
The Clippers will feel the pinch of desperation because of the pending free agency of George and Leonard next summer. It’s yet another win-now situation for a club that must make up for the haunting experience of the bubble. The good news is, health permitting, the Clippers have star power and depth for a deep run; Ibaka and Kennard were positive additions. Still, it’s crowded at the top in the West and the Clippers will be pressed to produce better than last season.
Predicted finish: 51-21.
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.