Just when all of us thought the Milwaukee Bucks would be the biggest disappointment in the 2019-20 playoffs, the Los Angeles Clippers happened. After an offseason that featured two of the biggest moves since The Decision, the Clippers failed to make it out of the second round. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George went scoreless in the fourth quarter of a loss in Game 7 and the Denver Nuggets advanced to take on the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. It still feels surreal only two days removed from the upset. If we went back in time and told people it wasn’t Lakers-Clippers at the end of the West tunnel, we’d probably get slapped or something. So with the Clippers out early, there are plenty of question marks in the long and short term for L.A.
What does the loss mean for Kawhi Leonard + Paul George?
Right now? Likely nothing. Leonard is under contract for at least another season. He has an opt out after 2020-21. George is signed to essentially the same deal and can opt out after 2021. The wrinkle in all of this is that the Clippers have two superstars on expiring contracts and very little assets after trading 5 first-round picks for PG-13. These are also two superstars who have flipped on their respective teams quite fast. George was traded from the Pacers to the Thunder and then from OKC to the Clippers. Kawhi looked like he’d be a San Antonio Spur for life and then forced a trade to Toronto before signing in L.A.
Leonard stated after signing with the Clippers that the motivation was for him to play at home in Los Angeles. If his mind doesn’t change, there’s a good chance Leonard stays with the Clippers. As for George, that isn’t so clear, especially after the type of postseason he just had. George is 30 years old. He’s been dealing with injuries throughout his career and this season was held back by his hamstring. I’m not sure if the injuries had anything to do with his playoff performance, but if they didn’t, there’s cause for concern.
In 13 postseason games this season, PG averaged 20.2 points on 39.8% shooting from the floor and 33% from 3-point range while doing little on defense. Those stats were capped by a 10-point performance in Game 7 vs. the Nuggets. It wasn’t all on George, but clearly Leonard was carrying the team with very little help from guys like Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley. Had George performed to the All-Star level we hold him, perhaps we’re anticipating a Lakers-Clippers Game 1 on Friday.
So let’s get to the point here. Should the Clippers consider trading either Leonard and/or George? You absolutely don’t trade Kawhi in my opinion. You can entertain the idea of shipping off George but it’s going to be tough to find a team that will take that salary and give up valuable assets for an aging star coming off a miserable playoffs. It appears the only card the Clippers can play is keep both of them and hope things go differently in 2020-21. This team is super talented and underperformed. We saw what happened to the Bucks, this isn’t much different. The only difference is one team has two All-Stars and the other has one.
What about the pending unrestricted free agents?
This is where things get a bit tricky. The Clippers have two big pending UFA in Marcus Morris and Montrezl Harrell. The latter is coming off a 6th Man of the Year award, though Harrell was a non-factor in the playoffs. You could argue Harrell’s disappearance in the postseason was more detrimental to the Clippers than George. Harrell was virtually unplayable in the playoffs, averaging 10.5 points over 18.7 minutes per game in 13 contests off the bench.
As for Morris, he was probably the only other Clipper to step up outside of Leonard. That obviously isn’t a winning formula, but Morris was a valuable asset after being acquired before the trade deadline from the Knicks. Morris was making $15 million this season and could be re-signed at a cheaper rate to help the Clippers chase another title.
I think the Clippers need to keep at least one of Morris and Harrell. Their depth at forward is lacking and perhaps the biggest issue for L.A. was not enough size down low. You would think Harrell would transition back into being the starting PF for the Clippers rather than a bench staple. That’s something Doc Rivers would need to figure out if Harrell is retained. If the Clippers let Harrell and Morris walk, it would be interesting to see who would fill the void. Most veteran players would be happy to join Kawhi and PG to go after a ship. Are they as excited about that now? I’m not so sure.