Funnily enough, it looks like what the Los Angeles Clippers need to succeed is to find one of these two things. They must locate a friendly witch who won’t insert pins on the voodoo doll equivalents of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George come postseason time, or replace their two stars’ knees with bionic inserts to prevent them from tearing at the most inopportune times.
Four seasons have passed since the Clippers made their bombshell “streetlights over spotlights” move, trading for George to convince Leonard, a recent NBA champion, to take his talents to Southern California. And yet here the Clippers are, still as snakebitten as ever.
When healthy (and under normal playing circumstances, unlike the 2020 bubble), the Kawhi Leonard and Paul George-led Clippers have looked like world-beaters. They were certainly beginning to hit their stride in May 2021, but that was when Leonard unfortunately tore his ACL, forcing George to lead the team on his own en route to a Western Conference Finals loss.
Since then, the Clippers have suffered increasingly worse injury luck. In 2022, not only did they not have Leonard for the entirety of the season, they also lost George to an elbow injury for an extended period, and they lost him to COVID during their all-important play-in tournament game against the New Orleans Pelicans.
As if things could not get any worse, the Clippers then lost Paul George to a freak knee injury in late March, and then with the Clippers looking good in their first round series against the Phoenix Suns, Kawhi Leonard followed George on the injury report with a knee sprain of his own, which ended up being a meniscus tear.
However, the Clippers don’t exactly have control over when their stars suffer their injuries. All they could do is prepare the roster for the possibility of the two’s absence.
With that said, here is the biggest need the Clippers must address during this offseason.
Biggest need Clippers must address in 2023 NBA offseason: Versatility and athleticism at power forward
Entering the 2022-23 season, the Clippers had all the looks of a championship contender. Given the direction the league is trending towards, the Clippers appeared to boast the services of a plethora of players that would allow them to shapeshift exceptionally well depending on the opposition. They could either stay huge with Ivica Zubac, or stretch defenses with Robert Covington at the five.
However, the Clippers’ bid to stack the roster with switchable wings only works if they provide enough two-way output to warrant minutes on the court.
Given that line of thinking, it’s not too hard to understand why head coach Tyronn Lue stuck with Marcus Morris Sr. for as long as he did in the Clippers rotation. Morris isn’t just a catch-and-shoot option; he can also post up against mismatches and he is able to create shots for himself with the shot clock winding down. And at his best, Morris was also a competent defender. But those things appear to be a thing of the past for the 33-year old.
Meanwhile, as defensively solid as Nicolas Batum is, his offensive game at this juncture of his career leaves so much to be desired. When his three-point shot isn’t falling, he barely does anything on that end of the court. Sure, he can move the ball quickly and set up dribble handoffs, but when his bread and butter isn’t working, it allows opposing defenses to clog the lane all the same.
And then there’s Robert Covington. Covington is in that odd position of simultaneously being overrated and underrated at the same time. Covington is definitely helpful on the defensive end; he has some of the best pair of hands around the league, using them to disrupt passing lanes and cause havoc. But Covington’s shot selection is questionable and his offensive decision-making is sometimes infuriating.
What the Clippers need to take the next step, however, is to acquire an upgrade over those two, someone whose two-way game is more consistent or someone who can affect the game in different aspects, such as on the glass.
It certainly looks like the Clippers need their own version of Denver Nuggets highflyer Aaron Gordon, someone who isn’t afraid to do the dirty work defensively and on the glass, can space the floor at a reasonable level, someone who can finish at the rim consistently, and an overall heady mover without the basketball.
It’s unclear which specific player the Clippers can target to fill this need. (Kenyon Martin Jr. perhaps?) But they definitely need an upgrade over their current, aging power forward corps.
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