30 Teams in 30 Days | 2023

30 teams in 30 days: Clippers hope healthy star tandem translates into success

With Kawhi Leonard and Paul George healthy, the Clippers are aiming to atone for a disappointing playoff run in 2023.

The Clippers’ hopes for success in 2023-24 once again will rest on Kawhi Leonard (right) and Paul George.

Key additions

  • G Kobe Brown (NBA Draft)
  • G Kenyon Martin Jr. (free agent) 

Key subtraction

  • G Eric Gordon

Last season

Kawhi Leonard was injured. Stop if you’ve heard this before. That not only sums up the Clippers’ season, it captures the last few years as well, and why this team has yet to realize its potential since he and Paul George came aboard.

A torn meniscus was the issue this time, and Leonard required a knee cleanup after the season. The injury came at a terrible time — he was beastly in LA’s first-round series with the Suns, averaging 34.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6 assists in the first two games before missing the rest of the series, which the Clippers lost in five games.

George missed that series with a right knee sprain and it was just as frustrating for the franchise as the two players.

Leonard suited up for 52 regular-season games last season. He hasn’t played more than 57 in a regular season as a Clipper. George played 56 regular-season games last season but only 31 in 2021-22, when Leonard was out after knee surgery. Essentially, the two haven’t been on the same page physically.

With those two in and out of the lineup, the Clippers were at the mercy of the supporting cast. They got an unexpected lift from Russell Westbrook, who moved crosstown and away from a bitter experience with the Lakers. He elevated himself here in his twilight and played very well in the postseason.

The only other consistent player was Norman Powell, who averaged 17 points per game off the bench. Meanwhile, Bones Hyland, Marcus Morris and Eric Gordon were different stages of mediocrity, while John Wall was a bust in his first season with the Clippers until the club pulled the plug after 31 games.

Summer summary

News flash: both Leonard and George are fully healed and ready for 2023-24. That’s what months of inactivity will do for two stars who needed rest and recovery.

But there was also some non-news: neither star received an extension from the club this summer. This might change between now and training camp, but the hesitation speaks loudly. Basically, nobody can blame the Clippers for taking a wait-and-see approach with the Brittle Brothers, especially Leonard. Both have option years ($48 million each) for 2024-25, so there’s some risk here if nothing gets done. Also, keep in mind the Clippers will move into their new digs by then, and their worst nightmare is putting a so-so product on the floor. That wouldn’t be good for business.

Basically, team owner Steve Ballmer has yet to receive a return on the tremendous outlay of cash and assets since they became a duo. Everyone knows the Clippers have no chance of being a title contender unless Leonard and George can make it through a season, playoffs included, without grabbing a body part.

Enough of those two. Let’s talk about a player who isn’t on the roster, but might be in the lineup on opening night: James Harden, anyone?

The Los Angeles native wants out of Philly and the Clippers are said to be his preferred destination. Nothing has happened yet between the Clippers and 76ers regarding a trade, but it remains a possibility. Should the Clippers add Harden to the mix, that’s three stars who can create their own shot. Harden would elevate the Clippers to serious contender status — again, assuming good health by all.

Getting him might cost Terance Mann, Harden is only on a one-year deal and there’s no certainty that Harden, Leonard and George will have a seamless transition together. But that’s a dice-roll worth making.

Officially, then, the summer was otherwise underwhelming. The Clippers re-signed Westbrook, which made sense for both sides. Russ will absorb one of the biggest pay cuts in NBA history (from max contract to vet minimum) but he’ll take it because he gets to stay home in LA and has peace of mind with the Clippers.

Mason Plumlee will be back as well, after getting an extension. “Plum Dog” was a good midseason pickup who brought his pick-and-roll game to the mix and also helped on the boards. He’s good value. Gordon, however, was a tax casualty and allowed to leave in free agency, signing with Phoenix. 

Oh, the Clippers had a first-round pick — OKC doesn’t own all of them — and used it on Kobe Brown, who’ll likely spend his rookie season in player development.

When training camp starts, the Clippers will say all the right things about this team. But they’ll have even more to say if Harden’s in uniform.

Up next: Indiana Pacers | Previously: Los Angeles Lakers 

> 30 teams in 30 days: Complete schedule

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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