The Los Angeles Lakers acquired the commerce season began on Monday by buying Rui Hachimura from the Wizards for Kendrick Nunn and three second-rounders, which may very well be the first of many strikes forward of the commerce deadline on February 9.
Only 5.5 video games separate the third-seeded Sacramento Kings and the Thirteenth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in the West, so nearly the complete convention continues to be in the playoff hunt. The Lakers really feel that if Anthony Davis can get wholesome, they will make a run. But there’s nonetheless uncertainty about whether or not they’re keen to—or ought to—transfer each of their future first-round picks.
The rival Los Angeles Clippers, on the different hand, do not face such a dilemma. They have to go all in to attempt to win the championship now. Why? They’ve acquired no different alternative. With their future draft picks mortgaged and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George doubtlessly turning into free brokers in 2024, the time is now.
It was a rocky begin to the season for Leonard, however he has progressively trended up and now resembles his pre-injury self. Over his final seven video games, he is averaged 29.9 factors with elite effectivity and 6.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.9 steals as well. It’s a small pattern, to make certain, and he is nonetheless prone to getting damage once more. But with Leonard trying like his outdated dominant self, and George nonetheless enjoying at a borderline All-Star stage, it is apparent why the Clippers would really feel an urgency to go for the Larry O’Brien Trophy this 12 months.
The discuss round the NBA is that the Clippers are actively searching for an improve over Reggie Jackson at level guard and a backup huge man behind Ivica Zubac. Despite the play of Leonard and George, the Clippers will nonetheless appear like phony contenders getting into the playoffs until they make enhancements.
Jackson hasn’t been very helpful since the 2021 playoffs, and John Wall was a worthwhile offseason gamble however has confirmed to be a significantly better interviewee than basketball participant in 2023.
Marc Stein reported on Substack that the Clippers have curiosity in Jazz level guard Mike Conley, who thought he could be traded to the Clippers earlier than the season. The Jazz are hanging round in the playoff race, however they’re first-round fodder higher off transferring their remaining veterans in order that they will fall out of the play-in and into the lottery, the place they supposed to be in the first place. No matter what different strikes they make, it is probably that Conley, who’s 35, will probably be moved to a crew that’ll give him a greater probability of successful his first title.
Conley is an efficient match offensively for the Clippers as a result of he is a gentle playmaker who can thrive off the ball as a shooter and cutter. And though he has declined on protection, he is had some lockdown moments this season when he is resembled his prime self.
In the closing moments of a decent win in opposition to the Pelicans final month, Conley poked away two inbound passes supposed for CJ McCollum earlier than snaking by way of three screens to cease McCollum’s scoring try. There had been ranges of velocity and consciousness on show that the Clippers have not seen from Wall or Jackson.
But different groups will pursue Conley too, which means that the Jazz will probably maintain out for the very best supply till nearer to the deadline. So LA should scour the remainder of the league. League sources say the Clippers are additionally desirous about Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet.
Lowry makes $28.3 million, and his decline with the Heat has been much more obvious this season than Conley’s dip with the Jazz. Conley ranks 84th in our Top 100 NBA Player Rankings, whereas Lowry fell out fully in the most up-to-date replace.
VanVleet, who’s at no. 76, is general the greatest goal for the Clippers contemplating he is solely 28, he is a relentless on-ball defender, and he was an All-Star simply final season.
League sources doubt that the Raptors will transfer Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby until the return is big—suppose two or three unprotected first-round picks or younger gamers of near-equal expertise—nevertheless it’s extra probably that VanVleet or Gary Trent Jr. will probably be moved since they’re much less gifted and may turn out to be free brokers this summer season.
Leonard and VanVleet received a championship collectively in Toronto and would probably excel once more in Los Angeles due to FVV’s capability to thrive off the ball or reliably run the level. VanVleet ought to be the Clippers’ high goal, however even when they land him, they’re going to nonetheless want so as to add measurement earlier than the playoffs.
Although Zubac was posting All-Defensive-caliber numbers earlier in the season, he’s admittedly worn down from enjoying the most minutes of his profession. LA had a top-five defensive score over the first 30-ish video games of the season earlier than falling to the backside 5 over the previous 20 or so. Other than Zubac, the solely 7-footer they’ve is Moses Brown, who would not supply something on the defensive finish.
HoopsHype‘s Michael Scotto reported on Monday that Timberwolves middle Naz Reid has drawn curiosity from the Clippers and Nuggets. I’ve heard from league sources that the Nets have additionally inquired about Reid, so there could be competitors for him if Minnesota selected to maneuver him, though the value for the upcoming free agent wouldn’t be important.
The Clippers are probably priced out of buying a giant man like the Pacers’ Myles Turner or the Hawks’ John Collins. A less expensive choice could be Magic middle Mo Bamba, who has seen his minutes dip and who league sources say is available in a commerce.
According to executives round the league, the Clippers are additionally desirous about their former backup middle Isaiah Hartenstein, who’s now with the Knicks.
LA tried to re-sign Hartenstein final summer season, however he went to New York for more cash and since he felt he was needed there. But sadly, not all free agent choices pan out the manner you initially envisioned them.
The Knicks have blatantly misused Hartenstein as a rim curler greater than a playmaker, his earlier position with the Clippers. He had a 20.5 help proportion with the Clippers, in comparison with solely 5.1 % with the Knicks. Tom Thibodeau would not know learn how to get the greatest out of him, whereas Ty Lue has already confirmed he can. Getting again collectively could be in everybody’s greatest pursuits.
The Clippers haven’t got many high-value belongings to maneuver in trades. But very similar to the Lakers had been in a position to outbid different groups for Hachimura, there are offers to be made at an reasonably priced value. The Clips have solely their 2028 first-round decide to supply, however they nonetheless personal all their future second-rounders in addition to 2027’s. Former second-round picks Jason Preston and Brandon Boston have each excelled in the G League; Preston has proven off his regular shot creation, and Boston is trying like a go-to presence. Both of them have worth that mirrors a high-to-mid second-rounder’s.
Stein says the Clippers “swat away exterior curiosity” in Terence Mann. It’s not shocking that groups would need him. Mann has established himself as a stable rotation wing, however he is nonetheless solely 26 and in the final 12 months of his rookie deal earlier than a two-year, $22 million extension kicks in subsequent season. Amir Coffey is on a team-friendly long-term contract and may very well be a pleasant addition to any supply, too. But neither of them have star-level upside.
The Clippers even have a variety of salaries to make the most of and doubtlessly mix to make nearly any incoming contract work. Wall ($6.5 million) and Jackson ($11.2 million) give the Clippers two expiring contracts to work with, whereas Marcus Morris ($16.4 million), Luke Kennard ($13.7 million), and Robert Covington ($12.3 million) can turn out to be free brokers in 2024.
For VanVleet, the Clippers might supply one thing alongside the strains of Kennard, Mann, Boston, a future first-round decide, and a second-round decide or two. Depending on the variety of gamers concerned, possibly the Clippers might get somebody like Juancho Hernangomez again in a deal or work it right into a three-way to land a backup middle.
As at the moment constructed, the Clippers don’t resemble a contender. The level guard and middle positions are far too weak for the crew to outlive a aggressive playoff collection.
Even although they cannot financial institution on Leonard to remain wholesome, they do not have the rights to any of their first-round picks till 2027 and haven’t any alternative however to guess on Leonard’s best-case state of affairs. We’re seeing that best-case state of affairs proper now, and he appears like West Coast Michael Jordan once more. George is a keen second choice, and the crew has loads of different good gamers. There are simply weaknesses that should be addressed.
The Lakers made their first transfer, and possibly not their final. Other contenders in the West will probably be looking out the marketplace for upgrades, too. But few groups, if any, ought to really feel extra strain than the Clippers; they’ve invested a lot on this core, and each Leonard and George have the capability to turn out to be free brokers subsequent summer season. Time is operating out.