Playoffs

Los Angeles Clippers 2024 NBA offseason preview: It’s gonna be a tough summer

Los Angeles Clippers 2024 NBA offseason preview: It's gonna be a tough summer

2023-24 season: 51-31

Highlight of the season: The Clippers looked like a legitimate championship contender when they went 26-5 over a two-month stretch, highlighted by the play of their star trio of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and James Harden, all of whom looked to have accepted their roles. Health, for the most part, also seemed to stay consistent around that time, which had Clippers fans dreaming big.

As it somehow always seems to end for the Clippers. The team began slipping around the All-Star break, and by late March Leonard was out of commission, forcing George and Harden to fulfill larger roles, which ultimately proved unsuccessful. Leonard made a valiant effort trying to come back in the playoffs, playing Games 2 and 3 in the Clippers' first-round series against Dallas, but never looked quite right.

Harden, who actively wanted to be traded to the Clippers from Philadelphia, crumbled in the final 19 games of the regular season, averaging just 13.5 points while shooting 36.4% from the floor. He made up for it with a stellar series performance against Dallas, but his aforementioned stretch of poor play, combined with the fact that he’s turning 35 before the start of next season, likely means Clippers officials only want the pending free agent back at a price that benefits them.

The situation with George is also loaded with question marks. After the Clippers extended Leonard’s contract in January, most expected George to follow suit, but so far nothing has materialized. George has a $48.7 million player option for the 2024-25 season, and his contract status seemed to cast a shadow over the organization for a significant portion of the season.

While the big names will steal most of the headlines, the Clippers did receive quality production from Norman Powell and Ivica Zubac all season. Powell, the team’s permanent sixth man, saw his raw scoring numbers dip (from 17 points last season to 13.9 this year) due to the addition of Harden, but that heavily increased his efficiency. Powell was the team’s most prolific 3-point shooter, canning 43.5% of his 5.1 nightly attempts.

Zubac remained the Clippers' most consistent big man, as has been the case for a few seasons now. The 27-year-old played some of the best ball of his career, upping his scoring (11.7 ppg), lowering his turnovers and becoming one of the most efficient interior scorers in the league. His immediate connection with Harden, as well as his immediate acceptance of his offensive role, allowed him to grow within his own space.

The Clippers are in for a tough summer. Needless to say, they’re immensely talented, but health and age seem to be working against them. Not a single player under the age of 25 featured in their rotation, and even if they’re losing both Harden and George to free agency, they won’t have much in the way of financial flexibility to make up for it.

Paul George, working against the Mavs’ Derrick Jones Jr. during Game 6 of their first-round playoffs series, is one of the biggest variables of the offseason. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

Assuming Harden and George stick around this summer — and that’s a big assumption — the Clippers are in need of better and younger bench depth. The backup point guard play of Russell Westbrook was uninspiring all year, and the organization clearly doesn’t trust Bones Hyland to make a dent. That being the case, the franchise needs to find alternative options immediately.

There are a lot of veteran players on the Clippers, and they have one second-round pick this year. Colorado point guard KJ Simpson could come in right away as a backup point guard to Westbrook, or they could pick up a younger player for development like 6-foot-9 guard Trentyn Flowers (Adelaide 36ers in the NBL) or 6-7 guard AJ Johnson (Illuwara Hawks in the NBL). — Krysten Peek

Projected draft pick (pre-lottery): No. 46

With Leonard, Powell, Zubac, and Terance Mann on the hook for over $91 million, which is before taking into account the unknown status of George and the $53.4 million cap hold of Harden, the Clippers are certainly not expected to have cap space.

While Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has always been very open-minded to spending big on the roster, there are concerns about locking up both George and Harden to deals that are too rich for too long, given their age. Expect the Clippers to offer shorter-team deals to both.

Key free agents

James Harden (UFA)

Potentially Paul George (UFA)

The same as last year: win the NBA championship. When a team has dedicated itself financially to this extent to compete, as well as pivoted off as many draft picks as they have, there’s no waiting for tomorrow. Every single season the Clippers aren’t lifting the trophy, they have failed. If both Harden and George are back, then the goal remains the same.

Fantasy managers enjoyed an unexpected win with Leonard, George and Harden playing in 68-plus games this year. All three were great values relative to their ADP, but can they be trusted? Leonard's knee is acting up again, so he hasn't shaken his injury risk just yet. And there's more.

Leonard and Norman Powell are the only notable fantasy players under contract beyond 2025. Harden is an unrestricted free agent looking for a new deal, and George is likely to opt out of his.

Zubac is coming off his best season, and he appears safe with no competition in the frontcourt right now. Still, with so much in flux with this team's stars, a lot can change this offseason. — Dan Titus

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