The Clippers appear to be doing just fine.
Los Angeles owns the seventh-best record and fourth-best point differential in the league, has two superstar wings in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, a coach with a championship pedigree in Tyronn Lue and an owner willing to pay the luxury tax. Most franchises crave for that situation.
But appearances can also be deceiving.
The Clippers are 5-5 in their last 10 games, ranking 26th in net rating and 29th in rebounding rate during clutch situations. Their defense crumbles in late-game situations while the stagnant offense has little to no movement and fails to get to the free-throw line. That's an unsustainable way to win a championship in a world where both the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers are fully healthy.
After shipping off their future first-round picks and young assets in order to acquire Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in 2019, the Clippers face a highly uncertain future if things collapse again.
That's what makes this trade deadline so pivotal for the Clips. The NBA Trade Deadline could make or break the Clippers' title chances. Here's who they should target if they don't want to disappoint again.
Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Kyle Lowry is a longshot because Los Angeles is depleted of assets, but never count out the Clippers' front office.
If the Clips can acquire Lowry then he'd fit right in as a rock-solid point guard who knows the strengths of his teammates and plays unselfish basketball. He’s a mercenary on the court, seeking out cracks in the defense, staying decisive, and bombing threes when the situation calls for it.
On defense, he’s still a pest and remains adept at drawing charges. His bruising frame suits him well for switch-heavy postseasons. Last season, Lowry ranked in the 88th percentile as the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations, generating 1.02 points per possession. That number has dipped this season due to Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol departing, but it’s clear Lowry still possesses the ability to make plays.
He’s also very comfortable playing with Ibaka and Leonard, who were his teammates in Toronto. During the Raptors' championship run, when Lowry, Ibaka and the Klaw shared the court, the Raptors bludgeoned opponents by 14 points per 100 possessions. There’s no reason they can’t do it again.
Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans
Lonzo Ball hasn't quite lived up to his lofty draft status with the Pelicans, but he’s developed as an off-ball facilitator while Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson and Eric Bledsoe have shouldered ball-handling duties.
Ball may never blossom into a full-time floor general, but his ability to set teammates up for success is still apparent. Ball's been draining threes at an impressive 38% clip this season and he'd likely have more freedom to handle the ball with the Clippers.
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
Ricky Rubio is a sage veteran whose style of play has gone slightly out of fashion in today’s NBA. A big reason behind that is because he doesn’t shoot a high volume of threes, and when he does let ‘em rip, he’s converted just 32% on his career, which is far below league average.
But Rubio fits the Clippers like a glove. His ability to make plays while threading nifty passes is a valuable commodity for a team that currently is relying on its two best scorers to shoulder the facilitation burden.
In an ideal world, George and Leonard can lock in on defense and reserve their energy to cook on offense while Rubio sets everyone up. Not having to worry as much about getting teammates involved could be the trick to further unlock the Clippers' pair of stars.
George Hill, Oklahoma City Thunder
It’s safe to say OKC and the Clippers have experience in the art of dealmaking, so at least we know the relationship is there.
George Hill might not have the impact of a Kyle Lowry-type, but he’s primed to help any contending team thanks to his combination of strong shooting, smart defense and passing instincts.
At 34, Hill's been around the block enough to be ready for the postseason. The guard would be a perfect fit in La La Land thanks to his high basketball IQ and strong defense. That is exactly the type of player the Clippers need.
Who Will The Clippers Give Up?
After mortgaging their future to acquire George and other players for their championship run, the Clippers don't have a ton of assets to surrender to fill their holes.
The Clippers do have a few young players who have shown flashes of quality play. They also own a boatload of future Pistons’ second-round picks, which could be valuable considering how bad Detroit projects to be over the next handful of seasons. Those picks could potentially be packaged together with a player or two to bring back a real asset.
But which players would teams be interested in?
How about Nicolas Batum? While many thought he was cooked, he's been decidedly mediocre with the Clips. He can still use his long arms to take on difficult perimeter enemies, but the rest of his game needs to pick up. He’s in the midst of a brutal March slump, averaging just 7.4 points and 4.1 rebounds on 34% from deep.
That brings us to the three most intriguing young players on the Clippers roster: Ivica Zubac, Luke Kennard and Terance Mann. All three players are 24 and have showcased important skill sets that are coveted league-wide.
Zubac is a classic old-school big man who has been able to remain effective in the modern NBA. He never shoots 3-pointers, but he uses his massive frame to gobble up rebounds and is a hard-running rim-roller. Opponents shoot 5.5 percentage points worse than their averages when Zubac is their primary defender, per NBA.com’s tracking data.
Kennard is a tricky one. Up until he surprisingly led an impressive comeback charge against the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night, he’d largely fallen out of the rotation. His upcoming four-year, $64 million extension isn’t looking too team-friendly, either, and that will definitely be a deterrent for some potential suitors. His defense is non-existent and he doesn’t inspire any fear when he (rarely) drives to the rack. But his shooting touch is special, as he’s drained 48% of his long-range attempts this season, one of the best marks in the league.
Finally, we have Mann, who has been one of the better second-round picks in recent memory. Mann was glued to the bench his rookie season, like most inexperienced guys on winning teams. But in his last 10 games, he’s been averaging 8.8 points on a ridiculous 46% from deep in 20 minutes per game.
The Clippers face a pivotal trade deadline that could determine the future of this team. So, no pressure.
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