Once upon a time, saying the Los Angeles Clippers were among the favorites to win the NBA title meant that you were either dreaming or playing a video game. This year, however, it's a bona fide reality, as the Clippers present one of the deepest and most versatile rosters in the league led by All-NBA talents in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
The Western Conference should be an absolute beast this season, but the Clippers and head coach Tyronn Lue can go toe-to-toe with any of the top-tier teams ... provided health is an ally as well. And there's the rub, as the Clippers have simply been unable to stay intact for an entire season in recent years. This roster, however, seems to be built to sustain a significant injury or two and still contend, as we'll get into later.
Here's a quick look at some of the offseason changes, followed by a preview of the 2022-23 Los Angeles Clippers.
- Signed guard John Wall to a two-year, $13.3 million contract.
- Signed forward Robert Covington to a two-year, $24 million extension.
- Signed center Ivica Zubac to a three-year, $32.8 million extension.
- Re-signed forward Nicolas Batum to a two-year, $22.6 million contract.
- Re-signed guard/forward Amir Coffey to a three-year, $11 million contract.
- Drafted forward Moussa Diabate with the No. 43 overall pick.
|Brandon Boston Jr.||Guard||20|
|Marcus Morris Sr.||Forward||33|
Top of the key: Paper champions?
Going simply by roster construction, the Clippers are probably the favorites to win the NBA title this season. Star power from Leonard and George is surrounded with mountains of depth, young and old, giving Lue strong options for virtually any lineup style he can concoct.
But how much of it are we actually going to see?
Leonard is healthy, but missed all of last season while recovering from an ACL injury. George played just 31 games last season, and has suited up for only 59 percent of the Clippers' games since he joined the roster prior to the 2019-20 season. Wall, a potentially pivotal signing this offseason, hasn't played in an NBA game in nearly 18 months. Even before we get to on-court chemistry, it's fair to question whether the Clippers can even stay healthy enough to make a legitimate run to the Finals.
As we learned last season with the Golden State Warriors, however, the amount of time the Clippers are healthy isn't nearly as important as when they're healthy. Load management is surely on tap for L.A. this season, but it has the depth and talent to win at a high clip even on nights when either Leonard or George is out of the lineup.
Next up: Let's get versatile!
If there's one thing Lue loves, it's lineup versatility, which makes his roster an absolute dream -- and an absolute nightmare for the opposing bench. The Clippers' two best players, Leonard and George, can play virtually any position and, more importantly, can defend virtually any position. Lue has true centers in Zubac and Brown, but can also elect to go with a five-out, small ball lineup with Robert Covington or Marcus Morris at center.
They can't get away with it for extremely long stretches, but the Clippers were incredibly effective in limited minutes with Covington at center last season. The lineup of Covington, Morris, Batum, Mann and Jackson, for example, put up a whopping plus-36.8 net rating in 10 minutes last season. Those lineups will now likely include at least George and/or Leonard, making them even more potent on both ends.
The fact that Leonard and George are both more than capable as primary ball-handlers means that the Clippers could reasonably field a lineup of five switchable players all standing 6-7 or 6-8 -- the absolute zenith of modern basketball. Expect Lue to experiment with different combinations throughout the season, but whatever ends up being the Clippers' version of the "death lineup" could be one of the most dangerous closing units in the postseason. That being said, they have to get there first.
One more thing: How much depth is too much
Our James Herbert, but the Clippers' depth this season could actually end up being a detriment in some ways. Please allow James to take the steering wheel for a second:
With rare exceptions, players and coaches don't complain about their teams being too talented. Since Leonard's injury, though, the Clippers have added Powell, Covington and John Wall. Reggie Jackson averaged 31 minutes last season, Terance Mann averaged 29, Luke Kennard averaged 27 and Amir Coffey averaged 23. Lue has already talked to the team about sacrifice, but that conversation is less fraught before the scarcity of playing time and touches becomes real.
"It's not going to be easy," Lue said. "It's going to be a process because we have a deep team with 11, 12 guys that deserve to play and we know we can't play that many guys every night."
The old "there's only one ball" problem may be trite and overrated, but the 240-minute-per-game limit is going to become an issue at some point this season for Lue and the Clippers. Injuries will allow for some of this to sort itself out, but there are going to be unhappy players at some point this season. Getting buy-in is one of Lue's strengths, and he'll have to put on a masterclass with this group. If he does, the Clippers might just end up hoisting the trophy next June.
Since the Clippers expect to vie for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, the majority of their games will bear at least some importance, starting with opening night in the battle for L.A. against the Lakers. After that will be an interesting curiosity -- seeing how Wall is received in his first game in Houston against the Rockets since they sat him out for the entirety of last season.
A big ESPN matchup will see the Clippers test their mettle against the defending champions, while two big games against Eastern Conference heavy hitters await at the end of December and beginning of February. Finally, the last day of the season sometimes seems meaningless, but there could be seeding at stake in the early-April meeting with the Suns, so it might be worth a watch.