Clippers still plan to build around Kawhi and George

The Clippers will be aggressive this offseason as they plan to build a championship team around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — The Clippers vow to become aggressive in free agency with either trades or signings. Following the NBA Draft on Thursday, they maintained they would make those moves to complement Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

“It’s still the plan,” Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations told reporters. “What we are trying to do is how can we put together the best team around these guys? We look at the different things, what worked, what hasn’t worked, the job that we have to do better, the job that we challenge our players to continue to do better. But yeah, that’s where we’re trying to maximize these two and figure out ways that we can get better.”

The Clippers  remain committed toward both Leonard and George, both of whom have two years on their contracts and player options on their final seasons. But Lawrence considered it “premature” on whether the Clippers would sign long-term extensions to Leonard (as early as July) or George (as early as September).

“We’ll just have the dialogue and just have very, very honest and open conversations,” Frank said. “We’ll see if there’s something that makes sense for all sides.”

The Clippers’ reluctance presumably has to do with their stars’ injury history.

Leonard missed Games 3, 4 and 5 of the Clippers’ first-round series against Phoenix after tearing a meniscus in his right knee in Game 1 and aggravating it in Game 2. After spraining his right knee following a collision with Oklahoma Forward Lu Dort on March 21, George missed the final nine regular-season games and the entire postseason. While Leonard missed all of the 2021-22 campaign to repair a surgically repaired ACL in his right knee, George missed 51 games for various ailments and the team’s second Play-in Game following a positive COVID-19 test.

In all, Leonard and George have nursed overlapping injuries during their entire four seasons here. Out of a possible 318 regular-season games, Leonard played in 161 of them and George appeared in 189 of them. Out of 37 playoff games, Leonard played in 26 of them and George appeared in 32 of them.

Yet, the Clippers have maintained optimism that the 33-year-old George and the 31-year-old Leonard can avoid future major injuries.

Frank said after the season that George would have been fully recovered in May. Frank said on Thursday that Leonard had a “clean-up” procedure earlier this month that he said “went terrific.” Frank added he “100 percent” expects Leonard to report to training camp in late September fully healthy.

“Talked to him and he feels great,” Frank said. “It’s an eight-week recovery from the time of surgery where you’re back on the court playing.”

To ease their workload, the Clippers hope to upgrade their roster. They selected University of Missouri forward Kobe Brown with the 30th pick of the NBA Draft on Thursday before choosing University of Miami forward Jordan Miller at No. 48. Yet, it remains unclear if they will have any substantial year on next season’s roster.

In a possible three-team trade earlier this week, the Clippers tried to acquire Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon in exchange for Malcom Morris, Amir Coffey and their No. 30 pick. The deal fell through, however, amid concerns about Brogdon’s health. The Clippers will shift priorities toward retaining Russell Westbrook, who averaged 15.8 points, 7.6 assists and 4.9 rebounds primarily as a starter after negotiating a buyout with Utah following the All-Star break. Though Westbrook expressed appreciation for the Clippers jumpstarting his career following a 1 ½ tumultuous seasons with the Lakers, the Clippers can only re-sign him with a $3.8 million exception.

“We want Russ back, but also respect the fact that he’s a free agent and has a rate to choose,” Frank said. “But hopefully we can keep him a Clipper.”

The Clippers also want to keep coach Tyronn Lue, but have tabled extension talks before the final year of his contract.

“We love Ty and want Ty to be the head coach here for a long time,” Frank said. “Out of respect to all of those conversations, those are private. But we love Ty. Ty is a terrific coach. As you know, he has gifts that very few have.  So, he’s an unbelievable connector with people. He sees the game in real time like few others. Obviously, many have acknowledged that he’s probably the best in terms of in-game adjustments. And so all of those things will kind of take care of themselves at the appropriate time. But it doesn’t change the way we feel about T-Lue.”

Mark Medina covers the Clippers & Lakers for The Sporting Tribune. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.