The Walls Are Closing in on Clippers’ Buyout Chances

Kawhi Leonard

Getty Kawhi Leonard of the L.A. Clippers

The L.A. Clippers, winners of five straight, have been playing exceptional ball since the All-Star break, and recently they improved their outlook at point guard, at least in theory, with the trade acquisition of Rajon Rondo from Atlanta.

But they still have one pesky issue that could quickly become a problem. Serge Ibaka has been out since mid-March, leaving the role of rim protector and post defender squarely at the feet of Ivica Zubac. The 24-year-old Zubac has played well in expanded minutes, but even when Ibaka returns, the Clippers will be just one injury away from giving Marcus Morris, Sr. or Patrick Patterson major minutes at the 5 — fine options when the Clippers want to go small, but certainly suboptimal at times against the likes of Utah and the Lakers in the West or Philadelphia and Milwaukee in the East.

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With the trade deadline come and gone, the Clippers were hoping to address their interior vulnerabilities via the buyout market, and even opened up a roster spot last week by trading Mfiondu Kabengele for picks and a trade exception. But whatever or whoever the Clippers have in mind, their options are quickly narrowing, as three likely targets — Andre Drummond, LaMarcus Aldridge and Gorgui Dieng — have reportedly already found new homes.

The Ones Who Got Away

Dieng was bought out from Memphis and, according to NYT’s Marc Stein, will sign with fringe contender San Antonio, who just themselves bought out Aldridge to open up playing time for emerging youngster Jackob Poelti.

Aldridge was thought to be high on the Clippers’ wish list, but alas, the seven-time All-Star will do his ring-hunting with the Brooklyn instead, according to his agent Jeff Schwartz.

The Nets, led by James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant (and recently acquired buyout asset Blake Griffin) present perhaps the best chance for Aldridge to win a championship, and the Internet has been aflame with declarations of world domination by the rapidly expanding Brooklyn empire.

And then there was Drummond, the rebounding behemoth who, after seven fruitless years in Detroit and one lame-duck session in Cleveland, is desperate to play for a true contender. Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka announced Sunday that Drummond will be wearing the purple and gold for the remainder of the season. 6-foot-10, 280-pound Drummond will cut a formidable figure setting picks for LeBron James, and his presence will allow the Lakers to move around Anthony Davis as they wish.

The Drummond signing, in particular, was a blow to the Clippers who share a division with the Lakers, but it also was a slap in the face of the Lakers’ archival Boston Celtics, who were said to be in looking at Drummond as quasi insurance policies on their super-talented by unproven big man Robert Williams and aging veteran Tristan Thompson.

Who Else is There?

Though not on par with Drummond or Aldridge, the Clippers could find use in big Kelly Olynyk, who was traded to Houston from Miami before the deadline. It’s not a sure thing a buyout will happen for Olynyk, but if it does, he would offer valuable playoff experience from his days with Boston and Miami and is still a passable pick-and-pop option despite shooting only 32.5% from three this year.

The massive Hassan Whiteside could also be worth the trouble to the Clippers, assuming he and the Kings decide to pull the buyout trigger. The 6-foot-10 eight-year veteran is a terrific shot-blocker and has been known to pull down double-digit rebounds when properly motivated. Problem is, no one knows exactly when and or where that motivation will materialize. Of course Whiteside offers zero threat from three and his recent injuries will be an additional concern.

And there’s always center DeMarcus Cousins, who some have suggested is talking with the Clippers and Boston. Despite attitude issues (to say the least) and a couple of major injuries (to say the least) the former all-world Cousins is usually able to find plenty of suitors.  But this season could be one of his last chances to contribute.

On the small side, recently acquired forward Otto Porter is not exactly in Orlando’s future plans and could be a buyout option for the Clippers if push comes to shove. Even with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, no one is going to sneeze at a 6-foot-8 wing who shoots 40% from three for his career. But injury concerns, maybe more than any other player listed above except Cousins, will follow Porter wherever he goes.

The long and short of it is this: the Clippers still have options, especially as they continue to play like a legitimate contender. But time — and players — are running out.   

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