If anything could derail the Clippers’ drive to a championship—they’re the odds-on favorites entering training camp—it could be an injury. And one fear for the team remains the status of star wing Paul George, who had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder and surgery on his rotator cuff in his right shoulder this offseason.
As the Clippers prepare to open training camp, George stated to NBA TV that he is about “85, 90-ish” at this point. He will miss training camp and anticipates returning in November.
“Not all the way there,” he said. “Still got a little bit of stuff, range and stuff to work through, a little strength to work through. But I’m close, I’m happy where I’m at.”
George underwent the surgery on his right shoulder in May and followed up with the left shoulder surgery in June. Both came before the Thunder traded George to the Clippers in a blockbuster deal in July.
George Should Return in November
George’s injury figures to cost the Clippers about 12-15 games, but the coaching staff is confident the team can withstand his absence. Only five of the Clippers’ first 17 games are on the road and seven of the 20 teams the Clippers will have through the month of November come against teams not expected to be playoff contenders.
George and fellow star forward Kawhi Leonard, along with guard Patrick Beverley, will make up what might be the most intimidating set of perimeter defenders in the league, each capable of handling an opponent’s top scorer.
Because the Clippers defense relies heavily on positioning—keeping shooters out of the corners and away from the rim—it will be possible for George to work himself into the Clippers scheme even while he is not playing.
Still, shoulder surgeries can be especially subject to re-injury and that will remain a concern for the Clippers throughout the year.
The Clippers Have Options Without George
The Clippers have some options when it comes to finding a fill-in for George. They could start Moe Harkless, who started 53 games at small forward for Portland last year, and keep Kawhi Leonard at power forward. Or they could move Leonard to small forward—he has played 88 percent of his career minutes at small forward, according to Basketball-Reference.com—and start role-playing forward JaMychael Green at power forward.
The Clippers also have an extra roster spot available. They have been rumored to be in the mix for veterans Carmelo Anthony or Andre Iguodala and either could fill in for George on the wing. Anthony could be signed at any point, but Iguodala would require either a trade or a buyout from Memphis. The Grizzlies are holding off on a buyout while they seek a trading partner, though.
The Clippers had planned to have a workout with veteran center Joakim Noah, though sources told Heavy.com that the workout has been postponed. L.A. would prefer to use the open roster spot on a big man with experience and just wait out George’s return.