Clippers, Lakers Prepare for Next Season
June 20, 2019
Southern California native Kawhi Leonard was named the 2019 NBA finals MVP as the Toronto Raptors upset the favored Golden State Warriors and won their first NBA Championship.
Leonard, who played his high school basketball at King high school in Riverside and his college ball at San Diego State University, has spent his professional career leading the San Antonio Spurs and the Raptors to Championships. He is now an unrestricted free agent and he may be coming home to Southern California.
While the Los Angeles Lakers are celebrating their recent acquisition of superstar Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, the Los Angeles Clippers have quietly put together a good, young roster and have plenty of salary cap space to add a couple of stars through free agency. It is believed that Leonard and the Clippers have a mutual interest in joining forces.
The Clippers have made the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons and have eight straight winning seasons. The Lakers have not made the playoffs in six seasons and have not had a winning season since the 2012-2013 season. The Clippers are coming off a 48-34 season and a playoff berth against the Golden State Warriors, whom they lost to four games to two.
In the short term, the acquisition of Davis should get the Lakers back in to the playoffs. Davis is a top ten player in the NBA. In the long term, this trade puts the Pelicans in charge of the Lakers draft.
The Pelicans will own the Lakers first round pick in 2019, 2021 and 2024. The Pelicans will also be able to flip first round picks in 2023. The Pelicans also acquired three previous first round picks of the Lakers in Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram.
The Clippers own all their draft picks in the future and have additional first round picks acquired through trades. Due to a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Clippers will receive Philadelphia’s own protected 2020 first-round pick and the Miami Heat's unprotected 2021 first-round pick.
The Philadelphia first-round pick is protected for 1-14 from 2020-22 and if it does not convey during that time, it becomes 2023 and 2024 Philadelphia second-round picks.
But the real key for the Clippers is the salary cap space they have created. The Clippers currently have about $56 million in salary cap space. The NBA salary cap for 2019-2020 is $109 million. They can easily sign Leonard, who would be eligible for a maximum contract of $140.6 million over four years, starting at $32.7 million his first season.
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), maximum contracts are calculated as an exact percentage of the salary cap, based on years of service.
The Clippers could bring Leonard home to Southern California and still have the salary cap space to add another star. Al Horford, the Boston Celtics all-star center, could easily be added to this roster at a salary that would fit under the salary cap. Horford, at age 33, is an unrestricted free agent looking for a long-term contract.
If the Clippers could add these two stars to a playoff roster, with their young talent, they are going to be a favorite to win an NBA Championship. They had three first round draft picks on the court last season, with two of them, Landry Shamet and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, both making the 2019 NBA All-Rookie team.
Center Ivica Zubac, acquired at the trade deadline from the Lakers, averaged 9.4 points per game and 7.7 rebounds in just 20 minutes per game for the Clippers. Zubac is a restricted free agent and only 21 years old. The Clippers also return their top three scorers from this season’s team. Lou Williams averaged 20 points per game off the bench, Daniel Gallinari averaged 19.8 points per game and Montrezl Harrell averaged 16.6 points per game.
The Clippers first round pick belongs to the Celtics due to a previous trade, but the Clippers do have two 2nd round picks. They should not have to look far for talent that should be available in the 2nd round.
UCLA has three players, all McDonald’s All-Americans, that will likely be available in the 2nd round. Kris Wilkes, Jaylen Hands, and Moses Brown are talented young players that never fully developed at UCLA, but with good coaching could develop into reliable role players in the NBA.
So, while the focus of the off-season is currently on the Lakers and their block buster acquisition of Davis, the team of the future in Los Angeles could be the Clippers, if they can convince Leonard to come home. Considering the leadership of Coach Doc Rivers, the management team of Lawrence Frank and Jerry West, and the deep pockets of owner Steve Ballmer, the Clippers have the look of a winner.