After going 21-8 out of the gate, Los Angeles has a losing record over their last 14 games (6-8), and the fourth-quarter stagnation that helped sink their playoff run last season has returned. They have a -3.5 net efficiency rating in the fourth (23rd in the league) indicating issues at the point guard position.
Defensive stopper Patrick Beverley has struggled with injuries all season and, even when healthy, can’t be relied on to effectively run the offense. Behind Beverley are Reggie Jackson and Lou Williams, both of whom are major liabilities on defense (Williams especially) and far from optimal facilitators on offense.
The Clippers, therefore, are looking to trade for a floor leader who can penetrate and kick, move the ball — particularly in the fourth when Los Angeles has a tendency to fall in love with isolations — and, at the very least, hold serve defensively.
Lowry & Ball at Top of Wish List
The 15-year veteran Lowry would immediately add perimeter scoring and aggressive playmaking. At 6-foot, Lowry is not the tallest man on Earth, but he’s an aggressive on-ball defender and able to get through many screens that would otherwise stifle less sturdy and resilient guards. Not to mention, the last time he and Kwahi Leonard wore the same jersey, 2018-19, they hoisted a championship trophy.
Ball would also seem a good fit for the Clippers. Not quite the transcendent guard the Lakers had hoped for when they drafted him No. 2 overall in 2017, the 6-foot-6 UCLA product is nonetheless an elite defender and a tremendous passer. And his range from three, which was all but a joke his first couple seasons, has improved by leaps and bounds. On 7.8 attempts a game this season, Ball is shooting 38.5% from behind the arc, several notches up from his career average of 35.2% and miles away from the 30.5% of his rookie year.
Not Much to Give
The main problem in acquiring big names like Lowry or Ball could be the Clippers’ lack of salary cap room and moveable assets.
The Clippers are hard-capped after they used the full mid-level exception on signing Serge Ibaka, and so they’d need to shed some major dough to make room for Lowry’s $30.0 million salary this season. Ball, who is making $11 million this year, would obviously be less of a problem.
Also, in acquiring Paul George from Oklahoma City in 2019, Los Angeles essentially forfeited all of their first-round draft picks until 2027. They do have a plethora of second-round picks through 2026, but it seems likely Toronto or New Orleans will want at least one first-rounder in return.
As for actual trade-worthy players, the Clippers could offer up second-year wing Terance Mann and/or rookie center Daniel Oturu. Mann, who brings length at 6-foot-5 and a slasher’s intensity, has played well at times this season. In the Clippers’ last game, a blowout win versus Charlotte, Mann put up 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting in 23 minutes.
Oturu, on the other hand, has seen limited minutes this season and only recently returned from a quad injury. Any team willing to trade for him would need to be on high on his potential.
All in all, given the Clippers’ lack of first-round picks, cap space and a dearth of young talent, it seems likely they will have to settle for some lesser options at point guard, like Ricky Rubio from Minnesota or George Hill from Oklahoma City.
That said, with the rival Lakers expected to struggle the next few weeks without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Clippers could feel this is the right time to go as big as possible. If they could package some of their second-round picks and a few players to another team, they could claw back one or two first-round picks, which would give them a lot more purchasing power with Toronto and New Orleans.