2020 could be the year that the NBA Championship returns to L.A, but not to the Showtime Lakers. The Clippers stunned the world this summer, as they made moves to add Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to their already-competitive roster. The front office cashed in an unprecedented haul of future assets to enter ‘win-now’ mode and are consequently title favorites by most bookies — albeit narrowly — over their purple and gold neighbours.
By all accounts, the Clippers had a great 2018-19 season. Before it tipped-off, they made a draft night trade sending freshly-picked Miles Bridges and two second-rounders to Charlotte for promising guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. They also said a final farewell to the last of the Lob City core, as DeAndre Jordan signed with Dallas during free agency.
The Clippers were enjoying a strong regular season before trading Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott to Philadelphia for Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, two first round picks and two second round picks. Harris was leading the team in scoring and his departure left concerns about who would become the go-to scorers from night to night. Gallinari, Williams and Harrell stepped up to fill the void and led the Clippers to the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Boosted by the mid-season acquisitions of Garrett Temple, JaMychal Green and Ivica Zubac, the team performed admirably in their first round 4-2 loss to the reigning Warriors – a team that still included Kevin Durant and a healthy Klay Thompson. One of the highlights of their season was completing the biggest comeback in playoff history – overcoming a 31-point deficit in the third quarter, before rallying to win 135-131.
The Clippers entered the 2019 offseason with high expectations and lofty ambitions, they possessed cap space to bring in a max free agent and a solid core in place to put around them. They held their nerve, waiting until July 6th to play their hand and move all in for two-time NBA champion Kawhi Leonard. Seconds after Kawhi was announced, it was revealed that they had traded for All-Star Paul George, sending a record amount of assets to the Oklahoma City Thunder, including Gilgeous-Alexander, Gallinari, five first-round picks and an additional two future pick swaps. The Clippers showed their intent to go for a title, and fast. They added Rodney McGruder, Mo Harkless in free agency, drafted Mfiondu Kabengele and re-signed defensive juggernaut Patrick Beverley, Zubac and JaMychal Green to consolidate their talented, deep roster.
1.The stars are aligning
The past few seasons have demonstrated that having one star player is usually not enough. LeBron needed the help of Kyrie in Cleveland, Durant needed to move to the star-studded Warriors. With Anthony Davis linking up with LeBron James, the Clippers needed to find another star to pair with Kawhi to make a serious claim for the title and for Los Angeles bragging rights. The ‘player empowerment’ era reached it’s peak as Leonard reportedly waited to commit to the Clippers until they confirmed the signing of another top player. They made their move and landed Paul George. Few players impressed more during last season than George and Leonard, so their addition to the roster has transformed them into the favorites for the upcoming title.
2.The Clippers are deep
Beyond Kawhi and Paul George, the Clippers have a terrifying arsenal of other players. Lou Williams has won consecutive ‘Sixth Man of the Year’ awards and provided relentless scoring from the bench, alongside Montrezl Harrell. They also have Beverley, Shamet, Green, Harkless, McGruder and Zubac all capable of making valuable contributions. Jerome Robinson and Kabengele are young and raw, but may show promise in limited minutes during the year. Kawhi won the Championship with a strong Toronto core last year; he now has Paul George and an arguably deeper roster to support him.
3.That’s one terrifying defense
It’s not just on the offensive end where the Clippers are alarmingly stacked. There will be considerable minutes throughout next season when Patrick Beverley, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will all be on the floor. Beverley is a defensive menace, causing havoc with his aggressive and disruptive style of play. Kawhi is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and is regarded as one of the best two-way players in the game. Paul George plays similarly to Leonard, providing outstanding interior and perimeter defense in addition to his elite offensive prowess. All three were deservedly in the top ten for Defensive Player of the Year 2018-19 votes. The combination of those three and a solid big man in Montrezl Harrell will play a huge role in the Clippers having easily one of the toughest defenses in the NBA.
Kawhi Leonard | 26.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 3.3 apg
‘The Klaw’ joins the Clippers after carrying Toronto to a Championship and maintains his status as one of the best two-way players in the league.
Paul George | 28.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 4.1 apg
A do-it-all wing who was an outside MVP candidate last season; George is a top level player who can both take the lead role and play off Kawhi.
Lou Williams | 20.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.4 apg
Fresh off consecutive ‘Sixth Man of the Year’ awards, Williams is a pure scorer who provides a huge boost from the bench.