LOS ANGELES — The LA Clippers have teetered on the brink of superstardom and postseason setbacks for the last four seasons, often for circumstances beyond their control.
On paper, the Clippers had one of the deepest and most versatile rosters in the NBA before the start of the season. Kawhi Leonard was coming back from missing the previous campaign with a torn ACL. Paul George was looking healthy.
However, the process was very start-and-stop. Leonard initially came off the bench, then missed a series of games out of caution for his right knee. He also suffered an ankle sprain, resulting in another handful of games out. The Clippers forward revved up towards the end of the regular season, looking like one of the best players in the world again, but later tore his right meniscus.
The tear was revealed following an MRI after game 2 of the Clippers’ first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns. He is expected to be ready for the start of next season, and his previously-torn right ACL suffered no damage.
The Clippers were subsequently eliminated by the Suns, but everything points to the idea of running it back, centering the team around its two all-star players.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Clippers before June 22:
What picks do the Clippers have?
The LA Clippers have the no. 30 (last pick of the first round and no. 48 (mid-late second round) picks in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Last year, the Clippers drafted French forward Moussa Diabaté from Michigan with the 43rd pick. He appeared in 22 games this season and averaged slightly under three points in nine minutes per game.
Diabaté signed a two-way contract after getting drafted. He played more often this year with the Ontario Clippers, the team’s G League affiliate, averaging 17 points, 12 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 33 games. The Clippers’ other two-way player was Xavier Moon, a globetrotting 28-year-old guard who has been in the organization’s developmental system since 2021.
Who could the Clippers draft?
Russell Westbrook and Mason Plumlee are the team’s only unrestricted free agents this off-season. Clippers president Lawrence Frank has indicated a desire to return Westbrook.
It will be hard for any rookie, particularly those usually available at no. 30 and 48, to become an immediate contributor for the Clippers next season. Even young prospects the team is currently high on don’t have a clear pathway towards consistent minutes.
A lack of rim pressure, particularly before Westbrook joined the team at the end of February, stands out as a problem. The Clippers are generally slow in transition and don’t generate a lot of hard paint touches getting downhill. Sidy Cissoko (G League Ignite), Amari Bailey (UCLA), Brandin Podziemski (Santa Clara) or Marcus Sasser (Houston) could add energy and versatility in the open court while also bringing other ancillary guard skills to the table. They should be available in that no. 30 range.
Julian Strawther (Gonzaga), Jaime Jaquez Jr. (UCLA) or Ben Sheppard (Belmont) would potentially be shorter-term options as seasoned multi-year college players. A connective piece, in the mold of Terance Mann, also exists in Andre Jackson Jr. (UConn) even if huge questions exist about his shot.
At no. 48, look for the Clippers to add and develop more size and versatility, simply because the NBA is moving in that direction. The Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat being in the finals exemplifies that.
Who have the Clippers drafted recently?
The Clippers’ recent draft history hasn’t been defined by a particular type of prospect. If anything, the team has been very tough to read in the draft since Kawhi Leonard and Paul George arrived in the summer of 2019.
Terance Mann, the no. 48 pick in 2019, has undoubtedly been the Clippers’ best pick in recent times. Mann is a mainstay in the rotation, appearing in 81 games both of the last two seasons. If anything, there’s an argument to be made for the Florida State alum to get more minutes going forward. Mann’s skillset as a connector complements Leonard and George very well.
After that, the Clippers’ highest-value pick has probably been Brandon Boston Jr. The Kentucky product, who played part of his high school basketball in Chatsworth for Sierra Canyon, was drafted with the no. 51 pick in 2021. Boston’s playing time with the Clippers has been spare, but more so because of the accumulation of wings on the roster. He averaged 24 points this season with Ontario, leading Clippers president Frank to call him “the best player in the G League the last two years.”
Jason Preston was the no. 33 pick in 2021, but he missed his entire rookie season after a foot injury. He played in 14 games this year, but on minimal minutes. It was tough for him to get on the court on a championship-contending team, even if the Clippers were short on natural point guards. Preston still needs more reps at the highest level.
Keon Johnson, the no. 21 pick in 2021, was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers the following year. The same thing happened with Daniel Oturu, the Clippers’ no. 33 pick in 2020, who was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies one year after being drafted. Jay Scrubb, the Clippers’ no. 55 pick that year out of junior college at John A. Logan, was on a two-way contract with the team for some time before being let go. He was with the Orlando Magic last season.
Finally, Mfiondu Kabengele, the Clippers’ no. 27 pick in the same summer that the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George era started, was traded midway through his second season with the team. He is now in the G League with the Boston Celtics’ affiliate, putting up typically good numbers at that level. In three seasons, he’s averaged about 19 points and 10 rebounds on 36% from three, indicating that there might still be an NBA future for the former Florida State big.
What else affects the Clippers’ draft and future?
Regardless of the Clippers’ recent playoff disappointments, there is no plan to blow up the core of the team. They will very much remain competitive looking towards the future, particularly with the opening of the Intuit Dome in 2024. The organization’s new home is scheduled to be open in Inglewood for the 2024-25 season. Any massive moves before then would be a surprise.
Michael Winger, the Clippers’ GM since 2017, was recently hired as the top executive of the Washington Wizards. Winger is now the President of Monumental Basketball, the parent company that oversees the Wizards, its Capital City Go-Go affiliate team in the G League, and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.
Head coach Ty Lue is under contract with the Clippers until 2025, but he is reportedly being targeted by other teams with coaching vacancies. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are eligible for extensions this summer, up to four years for $220m.
Djordjije Jovanovic, a 6-foot-7 guard who is draft eligible, joined the Ontario Clippers mid-season from Partizan in Serbia and averaged about 6 points in 18 minutes. He is not expected to be drafted, but it’s an unusual situation worth tracking — somewhat similar to Alen Smailagic’s move to the Golden State Warriors some years back. Jovanovic worked out for the Lakers on Tuesday. The NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement now means that teams have three two-way contracts.