Despite sitting 4th in the West and rostering Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Los Angeles Clippers are expected to be hyper-active at the trade deadline. And for good reason too as they are only a few games in front of the 11th seed with a grueling path to the Finals. The Clippers must answer the following questions before Thursday’s deadline – Which areas do they need to improve? Who are potential realistic trade targets? Is any asset besides Kawhi and George untouchable?
Los Angeles Clippers Biggest Needs
Their biggest need is a point guard that initiates the action, provides playmaking without turning the ball over, and spaces the court. The Clippers (22nd Offensive Rating) stall far too often because they have been handing the ball to Kawhi and George every possession without a point guard on the court.
Broken plays are subsequently common, and Los Angeles lacks any semblance of cohesion and consistency. As a result, the Clippers are 17th in Adjusted Offensive ShotQuality – since its inception before the 2019/20 season, no team outside the top ten has made the NBA Finals.
The Clippers have turned away from Reggie Jackson because he doesn’t create shots for teammates. His own shot selection is often puzzling, and Jackson’s defense is average at best. He’s more suited as a bench scorer, not a playoff-caliber starting point guard. John Wall does provide ball handling and passing, but his poor outside shooting and sub-par defense limit his impact.
Unsurprisingly, Jackson and Wall rank in the 15th and 11th percentile respectively for shot quality points per possession – the worst marks on the team. Essentially, a Jackson or Wall possession on average has a bad expected points per possession. When the top two point guards on the roster don’t produce quality possessions, the offense will nearly always be hamstrung.
Outside of a point guard, Los Angeles could also use a backup center. The West is loaded with giant, skilled centers, so I worry about Robert Covington’s ability to backup Zubac – he’s a capable power forward though. Moses Brown occasionally shows flashes, but he cannot be trusted yet with high pressure playoff minutes.
Los Angeles Clippers Trade Targets & Mock Trades
Los Angeles was in hot pursuit of Kyrie Irving, but Brooklyn decided Dallas’ offer surpassed all others. With Irving off the board, which point guards can they target? Is there a cheap center on the market?
VanVleet is the ideal target for Los Angeles. He plays on or off-ball flawlessly, creates his own shot, provides playmaking while reducing turnovers, spaces the floor, and plays sturdy defense. To top it off, VanVleet and Kawhi have already won a championship together and displayed chemistry during their one season together.
VanVleet would also allow Kawhi and George to rest at the same time because he can run the offense without them. A trio of Kawhi, George, and VanVleet with their horde of versatile wings would immediately challenge for the best team in the West.
Can they acquire him though? The Paul George trade still haunts Los Angeles’ asset treasure chest, so they don’t possess a ton of firepower. They allegedly offered the following package for Irving, and I imagine it would be similar for VanVleet. The Clippers must add around $700,000 more in salary to make the money work, but that’s easy.
- Terance Mann
- Luke Kennard
- One future 1st
- Two future 1st round swaps
Is that enough to get it done? It depends on what other suitors offer, but the package is a solid framework for VanVleet, who will definitely opt out of his contract this off-season. If the Clippers have the opportunity to acquire VanVleet, then they need to pull the trigger immediately. It’s time to shove all of their chips into the pot because Kawhi Leonard and Paul George won’t be great forever.
Mike Conley & Kelly Olynyk
This trade would solve both of Los Angeles’ biggest needs. Conley isn’t the same self shot creator as VanVleet, but he can still score without aid. He’s also an efficient playmaker who provides a steady, calming presence to the lineup. He will reduce the rough patches and churn out quality possessions by searching for the best shot possible.
His spacing is also key for the lineup. For ShotQuality points per possession, Conley ranks in the 85th percentile for catch and shoot threes and in the 83rd percentile for off the dribble threes. Considering Leonard loves to operate inside the arc, Conley will pull defenders away and be a deadly outlet. In addition, Conley’s on-ball defense and screen navigation skills remain adequate.
Meanwhile, Olynyk provides a scoring spark off the bench. He’s shooting 39.6% on 3.5 3PA, and the big man possesses decent court vision that has manifested into 3.3 APG. Zubac cannot space the floor, so Olynyk allows the Clippers to throw a different look at opponents. His ability to play power forward or center will mesh perfectly with Covington too.
This duo is easier to acquire than VanVleet, but Ainge is notorious for getting extreme value. Ainge will probably ask for a 1st rounder, a 1st round swap, and maybe a 2nd rounder or two. The Clippers can oblige, and they have plenty of salary to send the required minimum of $29.8M. If VanVleet is unattainable, then Los Angeles should angle for this package next.
“The Jazz are asking for too damn much,”
– NBA GM on trade talks with the Jazz 😅
(Via ESPN) pic.twitter.com/wAWU5tohf2
— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) February 7, 2023
I’m less enthused about the declining Lowry, who will turn 37-years-old by the start of the playoffs. His shooting is inconsistent, and he has lost a step on defense. Lowry’s performance last postseason doesn’t inspire much confidence: 7.8 PPG on a 29.1 FG% and 24.1 3PT%. He was dealing with an injury, but shouldn’t that also be a future concern for an upcoming 37-year-old playing in four consecutive draining playoff series?
However, Lowry is still a talented playmaker and ball handler who routinely creates shots for teammates. He is comfortable playing on or off-ball, and he can right the ship when the Clippers are in a state of offensive chaos. Like VanVleet, Kawhi Leonard also won a championship with Lowry, so the chemistry and intangibles are there.
Because of his sub-optimal contract, age, and the fact that Miami is becoming desperate to trade him, the Clippers won’t (and shouldn’t) have to surrender any first rounders. A package of Reggie Jackson, Robert Covington, and a 2nd may be enough to get a deal done. Miami wants to upgrade their power forward spot, so Covington is a decent return. Jackson would be a bench scorer for Miami, who could trot out a lineup of Herro, Strus, Butler, Martin/Covington, and Bam.
While Lowry isn’t the top priority, he would still be a decent acquisition. His price definitely isn’t as high as the other two targets, which may be necessary since other franchises can top Los Angeles’ best offer for VanVleet.
Overall, whether it’s Lowry or not, the Clippers absolutely must make a move for a starting point guard if they want to come out of the West. A backup center would also be nice, but that’s a secondary wish. Given owner Steve Ballmer’s disregard for expense and Los Angeles’ desire to go all in, I would be shocked if the Clippers didn’t do anything at the deadline.
— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) February 7, 2023