Let’s just address the elephant in the room, the 2020 Los Angeles Clippers are one of the biggest disappointments in recent sports memory.
After signing highly-coveted free agent Kawhi Leonard and pulling off a blockbuster trade for All-Star Forward Paul George, the Clippers came into the season considered by many to be the overwhelming favorites to win the NBA Finals. Unfortunately, their season ended abruptly as the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead and lost game 7 in the second round to a young and hungry Denver Nuggets team.
That was last season and now it’s time for the Clippers to put that loss behind them. Kawhi and company still have aspirations to deliver the franchise’s first championship to an eager fan base. Here’s how they can do it:
Trade for Rajon Rondo
If the bubble taught us anything, it is that Playoff Rondo is no fluke, he is the real deal folks. In these playoffs, Rondo was consistently the “coach on the floor” that the Lakers needed once LeBron exited the game. His ability to see the entire floor, knowing exactly where his teammate’s spots on the court were and overall veteran leadership was invaluable to the Lakers during their 2020 championship run.
To go along with his pure point guard finesse, Rondo is an absolute terror on defense and you can tell that it is inspiring to his teammates. During the Finals, the Lakers would turn on a different gear defensively whenever Rondo was on the floor. His ability to play the passing lanes to perfection led to easy transition alley-oops for the Lakers. What has made Rondo even scarier recently is that he has developed a reliable three-point shot that has to be honored, something that defenses didn’t have to worry about in the past.
Having a true point guard has become a lost art of sorts during this current era of space and pace. However, look at how much players like Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee benefited from Rondo’s court vision and overall control of the game on the floor. His skill set could be especially beneficial to players like Clippers’ young center Ivica Zubac and forward Montrezl Harrell. They say defense wins championships but having a true point guard can help you build a dynasty.
Trade for Al Horford
Ever since the Warriors signed KD during 2016 free agency and the birth of “small ball”, there has been a running theme around the league that you don’t need a true center to win championships. All you needed to do was watch the Clippers 2020 playoff run to see that statement is completely untrue. The Clippers got demolished by Porzingis and Jokic on pick and rolls. To be a legit playoff contender a team needs a center who is actually able to run a pick and roll, rebound and lockdown the paint which is something that the Clippers don’t currently have.
On the other hand, the Horford and Embiid experiment in Philly is a perfect case of having too many cooks in the kitchen and that was apparent during their first-round playoff matchup. There just simply is not enough space in the paint for both Embiid and Horford to operate effectively. With Doc Rivers replacing Brett Brown at coach and newly acquired President of Basketball Operations Darryl Morey you have to figure that a trade is imminent for Philly at this point.
If you saw Horford play in Atlanta and Boston, you know that he is a prototypical meat and potatoes center. Not a lot of flash and flair but every team that Horford has played on has been in the hunt for contention because he shows up and does his job on a nightly basis. Horford’s numbers won’t jump off the page at you but he has intangibles that will fill all the necessary holes in a team’s roster to help get them over the hump. If there is one thing that Thunder General Manager Sam Presti is enamored with it is future first-round draft picks. The Clippers already gave up a healthy amount of draft picks to the Thunder in the past to acquire Paul George from them last summer, Presti would probably salivate at the opportunity to do business with them again.
Build a Bench That Can Actually Produce
The bench duo of Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams were generationally good during the 2018-19 season. The two were so good off the bench that they were actually in competition for the Sixth Man of the Year Award that season. Williams and Harrell even showed flashes of how good they can be at times during the 2020 season.
Unfortunately, the honeymoon phase has come and gone for the once unguardable bench tandem. During the 2020 playoffs Trezz and Lou never really seemed to click the way that they have in the past and it cost the Clippers a shot at the title. The Clippers bench was simply outplayed in both of their playoff series. We saw Trey Burke play so well against the Clippers bench that he was eventually inserted into the Mavericks starting lineup before the series was over.
Steve Balmer and his front office will have to choose which player to keep going forward and which one to let walk in free agency. Teams have figured out how to defend them. Jerry West and company need to search for bench players who can actually produce, like free agents Jamal Crawford and Jordan Clarkson or even Dwight Howard.
As we saw during the Clippers/Nuggets series, having a strong starting five that can put you up 20 in the first quarter means absolutely nothing if you have a weak bench that will have you down 10 to start the fourth quarter.
Sign ‘Certified Dog’ Jerami Grant
Jerami Grant was the Nuggets’ third-best player behind Murray and Jokic. Grant is an extremely long stretch four who can pretty much guard 1-5. The main argument for the Clippers being the overwhelming favorite to win the title was that the Clippers had a bunch of “dogs” on the defensive end like Montrezl Harrell and Patrick Beverley. While that turned out to be untrue, Grant proved that he indeed does have that dog in him.
Grant is also an extremely athletic player that can jump out the gym which makes him a real threat in the Clippers transition game. Jokic and Murray would often look for Jerami Grant to catch lobs on the fast break because you can pretty much throw the ball anywhere in his region and he’s likely to finish it.
Grant put on a defensive clinic guarding Clippers forward, Paul George in the conference semis. Couple that with Grant’s ability to rebound, play the post, and space the floor with the three-ball and it equals not only a better defensive player but a player that can relieve some of the defensive attention off of Kawhi Leonard. All teams really had to do was double Kawhi because of how inconsistent Paul George was in the playoffs and that threw off the Clippers’ entire game plan. Adding another legitimate offensive threat like Jerami Grant would equal a more fluid offense for the Clippers.
Trade Paul George … Fast
Paul George has one of the most inspiring stories in sports. After coming back from one of the most gruesome injuries we’ve ever seen during the summer of 2014 he returned to superstar form in less than a year. The time has come for the Clippers and the rest of the basketball world to face reality and understand that the fairytale is over. Paul George’s best days are officially behind him.
We have watched him time and time again shrink in the biggest moments come playoff time. The Clippers need not wait until another inevitable playoff failure next season to move him, sell high now. Paul George’s best days were in Indiana where he had little to no championship expectations riding on his shoulders.
George’s ideal situation is with a team like the Wizards where the expectations are relatively low. In return, the Clippers get a certified star in Beal who Washington is rumored to have been actively shopping since last season. This is a rare trade that results in a win-win for both teams as Washington finally unloads Beal’s contract and the Clippers get a certified bucket and major upgrade at shooting guard.
The Clippers found out the hard way that winning a championship isn’t easy. It’s even harder when you have championship expectations from the majority of the basketball world and half of the city that you play in is rooting for you to fail. The Clippers have gotten slandered into oblivion this offseason and deservedly so. However, If they can pull off these moves this offseason, they have a legitimate chance to dethrone the defending champion Lakers and ultimately make the franchise a champion.