What the Clippers can learn from the Warriors as they reflect on their approach to the trade deadline

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The Los Angeles Clippers have spent the past two and a half seasons building two different rosters. There is the front contender led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George who could have been injured away from the 2021 championship, and then there are the Shadow Clippers. The same front office that was forced to part ways with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and nearly all of his draft pick cabinet to land George in 2019 has quietly and meticulously clawed back much of the lost value in that deal by winning on the margins, assembling an enviable young core by competitor standards.

Terance Mann, who stood out in last season’s upset against the Utah Jazz, is locked into a contract extension signed in the offseason and is averaging a career-best 10.6 points per game. Second-round pick BJ Boston has been in and out of the rotation, but has scored in double digits in eight of his 26 appearances. Not bad for a 20 year old. Minimum-wage signing Isaiah Hartenstein has become the team’s plus-minus king, a position that has been filled by two-way guard Amir Coffey since Hartenstein’s ankle injury, and ultra-first-round pick. athletic Keon Johnson is looming as the upside-down resident.

There have certainly been failures. The Clippers would certainly like Mfiondu Kabengele pick back after being immediately tracked by Jordan Poole, Keldon Johnson, Kevin Porter Jr. and Nic Claxton, but overall the front office did an admirable job under difficult circumstances. With limited draft capital, cap space, roster spots and minutes, he managed to defy the poor record of most contenders in player development and cultivate a group of promising youngsters.

The cynics among us might suggest that prioritizing these youngsters was as much a short-term necessity as a long-term game. The Clippers will be capped until around the 24th century and needed an inexpensive source of roleplayers, or maybe even trade assets for the inevitable remodeling that most super teams need midway through. -journey. The Clippers may have gone into their stealth rebuild expecting to arm their youth this way, but a somewhat unique opportunity has presented itself in what is shaping up to be a lost season.

Leonard is still recovering from a torn ACL. George is struggling with an elbow injury and an uncertain schedule. As a result, Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer reported that the Clippers could become trade time sellers. There are obvious forms this could take. Dumping Serge Ibaka into one of Oklahoma City’s trade exceptions would save Steve Ballmer a small fortune, for example, and if anyone wants to recoup the $3.9 million in guaranteed money owed to Eric Bledsoe for next season, well, the Clippers probably wouldn’t. say no. But let’s imagine a more in-depth approach.

The entire rival NBA class is looking at Jerami Grant, for example, but only one team manages to land him. Where do the rest of those hungry old GMs go when they miss something? And Marcus Morris? Although somewhat inconsistent, Morris has in the past been the rare shot-stopper able to up or down in attacking and defensive roles. He can defend most forwards and most crosses. He can catch and shoot and create his own plan, and even though his contract was lamented upon signing, the idea of ​​paying him $33 million for the next two seasons doesn’t seem so crazy in a world where it’s is the going rate for Lauri Markkanen.

While that number is a bit high for deep-tax buyers, Nicolas Batum offers a rare alternative. He swung the Clippers’ first-round series against Dallas as perhaps the definitive small-ball center of the 2021 playoffs… but only makes $3.2 million on a non-bird raise from his minimum wage. previous. He has the right to veto any trade, but if he wants to be in Los Angeles enough to qualify for such a discount, he could simply return in the 2022 offseason.

Either could potentially earn the Clippers a protected first-round pick. Reggie Jackson probably could as well, although his shooting regression could scare off suitors and his friendship with George could prevent a deal. Luke Kennard no longer looks like horrible value on the four-year extension he signed after joining the Clippers, especially with the final year positioned as a team option.

Recovering some of the provisional capital spent on George would be the main benefit of the sale, but it would not be the only one. The Clippers are miles past the luxury tax slated for next season, but losing some pay now could give them the flexibility to use the non-taxpayer mid-level exception in an agent class. free with very little ceiling space available. While resetting the repeater tax clock can be a pipe dream, it never hurts to save your landlord a few bucks if you need to spend during a more competitive season.

But if you need proof of what the Clippers really have to gain, just head north a few hundred miles and watch the Golden State Warriors. Only a year ago, the Warriors were where the Clippers are now: a .500 team waiting for returning stars and trying to make the most of their situation in the interim. They could have focused on the short term above all else, but instead opted to allocate minutes to younger players who had spent time in their G League orbit. Many have passed away. But Damion Lee, Juan Toscano-Anderson and Jordan Poole have all emerged as viable rotation players this season as the Warriors actually have a shot at winning the championship.

Mann leads the Clippers by minutes, but, due to a combination of circumstances within their control and beyond their control, Hartenstein, Coffey and Boston are all below 600 total minutes this season. Johnson has only played 135 games, and there’s plenty of room for further experimentation with the G Leaguers and young free agents.

Most of those players probably won’t amount to much, but the Clippers don’t need them. The Warriors happily spent development minutes on players like Mychal Mulder, Nico Mannion, Alen Smailagic because it was this process that brought them to Poole, Lee and Toscano-Anderson. Young players are inherently unreliable. Only opportunity can reveal what they are capable of as full-time players. Injuries aren’t an ideal vector for this opportunity, but pivoting to a midseason youth move could pay similar dividends for the Clippers next year if one of their cheap young players emerges as the did Golden State.

It’s a rare opportunity for the two rosters the Clippers have built to converge for a championship pursuit next season. Fusing Leonard and George with young, battle-tested players, those left over from their veterans, and whatever assets they can bring to the deadline might be this franchise’s best chance at finally reaching the NBA Finals.

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