Hot Take Marathon: Move Over Lob City; The Clips Play in Champ City!
Kevork Djansezian/ AP via Getty Images
Goodbye Golden State Warriors, hello Los Angeles Clippers! There’s beautiful symmetry in the fact that the last team to keep the Warriors from representing the West was the Clippers; it’s those same Clippers who will be lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy at season’s end.
This offseason the Clippers achieved something remarkable. Without gutting their existing roster -- which had stunned the NBA by making last year’s playoffs -- the Clippers added, arguably, the two best two-way players in the NBA. What sets them apart from the Lakers, for instance, is that those two superstars aren’t the only players on the team that matter.
One of their earliest moves in free agency was to re-sign point guard Patrick Beverly to a three-year deal worth $40m. Coming off a tremendous, injury-free season, he is the heart and soul of this team with his leadership both on and off the court. For most people, this was the most important move outside of acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
The Clippers went on to re-sign JaMychal Green, Ivica Zubac, and Rodney McGruder and added Maurice Harkless as part of the Jimmy Butler four-team trade. Green made a massive impact last season playing as a stretch four and a small-ball five when the Clippers went smaller, and Zubac joined via trade in February this past year and went on to provide the team with much-needed rim protection. McGruder is still waiting for his Clippers debut, and Harkless fits the Clippers DNA with his gritty defense; he could easily step into the starting lineup if called upon, having started 53 of the 60 games he played in for Portland.
Though the Clippers won’t have many rookies joining the team in future seasons, thanks to the ransom they paid Oklahoma City for George, they do have a pair this year in Mfiondu Kabengele and Terance Mann. Kabengele is a raw talent who has the skill set of the modern big, and the right bloodlines, as the nephew of former NBA great Dikembe Mutombo. Mann was drafted in the second round and little is expected of him, but a strong Summer League may have changed people’s perspectives.
But neither of them are why we’re here. The only reason I can write this article is because of the franchise-altering moves the Clippers front office made in bringing Leonard and George to Los Angeles. Kawhi proved that adding him alone pushes a team to title contention -- putting up 30.5 points per game on 49% shooting, while adding 3.9 assists, 9.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals throughout the playoffs will do that for you -- but in adding both of them, the Clippers made themselves the clear favorite to lift the title.
George is coming off an outstanding season in his own right. An MVP candidate throughout the year, he ultimately settled for third -- probably because his body let him down to the point where he needed surgery on both shoulders this offseason. That doesn’t overshadow his phenomenal final season in OKC. He averaged 28 points (2nd in the league!), 4.1 assists, 8.2 rebounds, 2.2 steals and shot 43.8% from the field. George is very versatile, able to play three different positions both offensively and defensively, and matched his 3rd-place finish in the MVP race with a 3rd-place finish in Defensive Player of the Year. These two attributes give Doc Rivers plenty of flexibility to devise the best lineup for a myriad of situations.
Whatever other moves were made this offseason, no team can say it brought in a better combo than the reigning Finals MVP and the 3rd-Place finisher in MVP/DPOY voting. And since they still have a deep roster around their new stars, the Clippers are well-suited to excel even when Leonard or George succumb to ‘load management’ -- or actual injuries. Last season, the Clippers’ deep roster led to a reduction in minutes played across the roster, preserving the energy of and preventing injuries to the likes of Danilo Gallinari and Beverley, who were injured for long stretches the season before.
It’s not hyperbole to say that the Clippers stunned the league by winning 48 games a year ago; anything short of 60 will be a profound upset. Even managing their stars, if the roster stays healthy, the Clippers should be trotting out one of the two on a nightly basis -- they’ll be a threat to win every time they take the court. And while they will face strong competition from the Jazz, Lakers, Rockets, Warriors and Nuggets, iron sharpens iron; I’ll take them against any team in a seven-game series.
Over in the East, the Bucks, 76ers, Celtics, and Nets feel like the teams most likely to lose to the Clippers in the NBA finals. Any team with Giannis is a threat to win, but last year he couldn’t get past Kawhi -- will this year be any different? The Celtics are half of Team USA in the World Cup, but any of their representatives would lose their spots to Leonard or George if either wanted to represent their country. The Nets might be favorites when Durant comes back, but he’ll be out for the season. That leaves the 76ers to compete against the Clippers.
It could be argued that the 76ers’ four-star starting line-up of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, former Clipper Tobias Harris and new signing Al Horford is the class of the league, but they lack the depth of Los Angeles. The Clippers will win the NBA championship, beating the 76ers in five. You heard it here first!