An incredibly disappointing exit to the 2020 NBA Playoff Bubble left Clippers fans longing for signs of hope. A franchise decimated by early round exits and underachieving their expectations could not manage to overcome their struggles even with the best roster in franchise history, arguably one of the deepest NBA rosters ever (on paper at least).
Now, in a COVID-condensed off season, the Clippers are looking to reload for one more playoff push before both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can opt out of their contracts in the summer of 2021. While both seem intent on staying in Los Angeles long term, nothing is ever set in stone, especially on an NBA roster.
Draft Night Trade, Shamet & McGruder for Kennard | 9/10
Landry Shamet solidified his place in Clippers history when he hit the 3-point dagger, completing the franchise record 31-point comeback victory against the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 playoffs.
Unfortunately, the fan favorite was the latest pawn to be dealt in the Clippers’ pursuit of a title. On draft night, LA participated in a three-team trade that sent Landry Shamet to Brooklyn, Rodney McGruder and pick #19 to Detroit, and Luke Kennard to the Clippers, essentially swapping Shamet for Kennard in the Clippers’ rotation.
Kennard is already a much more proven player than Shamet, possessing the ability to score on spot-up threes, off the dribble, and at the rim. Last season, the 23-year-old wing had a breakout season. He averaged 15.8 points, 4.1 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 39.9% 3-point shooting in 32.9 minutes per game, all of which were better than what Landry was able to do in LA.
Of course, Kennard won’t be playing the same number of minutes in LA, as he’s on a much better roster than he was a part of in Detroit. However, his efficiency and improvement speak for themselves. The most concerning part of this deal comes in Kennard’s injury history. Through three years in the league, he has yet to log a full season, including playing only 28 games last season. If healthy, Kennard is a fantastic upgrade. Unfortunately, that’s a big if for the Clippers.
Clippers Lose JaMychal Green (Nuggets) and Montrezl Harrell (Lakers) | 6/10
JaMychal Green and Montrezl Harrell have been vital pieces to one of the deepest benches in the league for multiple seasons now. They are both undersized big man that provide high levels of energy and efficiency off the bench.
At times, Green seemed to be the only player continuously giving maximum effort regardless of the situation at hand. He never failed to hit big threes, grab offense rebounds, and bother opposing bigs on defense. Losing Green has been the worst move of the Clippers’ off season so far, and one of the most painful for the fans to deal with.
Losing Harrell obviously hurts the bench, but not as much as losing him to the Lakers does. The reigning 6MOY put up career highs in nearly every single stat category last season, but when it mattered most, he became a defensive liability. Former head coach Doc Rivers continually matched him up against Nikola Jokic, a recipe for disaster.. Though this was not entirely Harrell’s fault, it did expose one of his biggest weaknesses on defense, along with his limited shooting range.
Harrell’s departure left the door open for a more traditional and versatile back up big to join the team, even exciting some Clippers fans at the prospect. This potential opportunity is the only thing preventing this rating from sinking further.
Clippers Resign Marcus Morris Sr. | 4 yrs, $64 mil | 8/10
Since acquiring Marcus Morris at the trade deadline last season, he has more than earned his keep with the Clippers. Morris was averaging a career high 19.6 PPG on 43.9% 3-point shooting in 43 games with the Knicks prior to being traded to the Clippers. Naturally, his totals dropped playing alongside two All Star caliber players, but he still managed to shoot 42.5% from the field and score 10.1 PPG with during the remaining regular season.
What truly tipped the scales in the Clippers decision to bring Morris back however was his playoff performance. He averaged 11.8 PPG on 47.5% from long range, at times playing even better than the team’s supposed second option, Paul George. Morris made huge, timely shots, played hard nosed defense, and provided an edge that has been part of the Clippers’ identity for many seasons now.
Morris was rumored to be the Clippers’ number one target this free agency, and his massive contract supports the case. In fact, the only thing keeping this signing from a higher grade is how much total money is involved. Don’t get me wrong, Morris earned his place in the team’s future, but I would be lying if I said this contract doesn’t feel slightly above the 31-year-old forward’s actual worth. Regardless, the Clippers kept their man in a great move to open free agency.
Clippers Sign Serge Ibaka | 2 yrs, $19 mil | 10/10
This is the definition of an A+ signing. The Clippers lost Harrel, their backup center, and JaMychal Green, their backup power forward. This left not one, but two major holes in the depth chart. Serge Ibaka not only fills these roles, he’s an instant upgrade at both.
Earlier, we alluded to Harrell’s lack of ability to defend or shoot at a high level. Ibaka is more than capable of doing either. He boasts an impressive 2.1 career blocks per game, as well as a career 3-point shooting average of 36.0% (38.5% last season). Not to mention he stands a full 7’0 tall, nearly five inches taller than Montrezl Harrell at the center position.
More impressive than his ability to play center is his ability to step out and play the four position as well. There may be some debate about who starts between Morris, Ibaka, and Ivica Zubac, but the beautiful solution is that any combination of the three would work. Versatility is one of the most valuable assets in today’s NBA game, and this signing displays versatility at its finest.
Overall Off-Season Grade (So Far) | 7.5/10
Swapping Shamet for Kennard was a huge move, especially considering the fan-favorite Shamet has been. It set the tone that this front office is willing to make big moves to compete. Keeping Morris was also a fantastic start to free agency, overpaid or not. The edge and intangibles he brings are arguably worth the extra money. Then add in the incredible addition of Serge Ibaka and you have the start of a great reload.
Unfortunately, that’s all it is so far. A start. The Clippers still lost a couple of major pieces from the bench and have yet to fill several needs on the roster. For starters, they need a legit playmaking point guard to compliment the defensive-minded Patrick Beverley. Reggie Jackson filled the bench need temporarily last season, but he too became a defensive liability during the post-season. This was most evident in Luka Doncic’s game-winning, 3-point dagger over the much smaller Jackson’s outstretched arm.
They still need a second backup big man and to address their options on the wing. Does Kennard slide into the backup three spot or two spot? Does Lou Williams move to point guard? Or perhaps even get traded? Where does Terance Mann fit in? All of these uncertainties prevent this offseason grade from climbing any higher, but all in all, each move made has been a positive one.
Main image credit:
[getty src=”646913856″ width=”594″ height=”396″]