The Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday became the second straight team to blow a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets this postseason. The team crumbled in the second half of all of the three final games, lacking a sense of urgency and looking discombobulated as their title hopes slipped away.
For a team many picked to win the Finals this season, the Clippers have plenty of soul and player searching to do this offseason. Montrezl Harrell and Marcus Morris are both free agents and L.A. unlikely keeps both, so the team has to look for new big men to re-tool for another playoff run.
In addition to their offensive woes in the fourth quarter, L.A. desperately needs more interior defense and rebounding to compete with the bigger teams in the west like the Lakers, Mavericks and Nuggets. Here are five big men the team can target this offseason based on the minimal assets L.A. has left from the Paul George trade.
Some of the following players can be signed in free agency, but for those who would need to be traded for, the Clippers can offer a combination of Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Ivica Zubac, Rodney McGruder, JaMychal Green, Landry Shamet, Mfiondu Kabengele and Terance Mann, as well as a couple of future second-round picks.
5. Marc Gasol (Free Agency)
If all else fails, Marc Gasol is an easily-acquirable center for the Clippers this offseason. He’s nearly 36 years old and struggles more and more to score and defend pick-and-rolls, but the former champion and Defensive Player of the Year is still an adept passer and interior defender.
He may not want to accept a mid-level exception to play for a contender since he just won a ring, yet L.A. could offer him a similar role to what Gasol had in Toronto that would make him feel comfortable. The team would need him to play 20-ish minutes per game when Zubac sits and rebound and defend. He’s capable of hitting triples when he’s in rhythm as well, which should give more spacing for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to operate. Gasol’s superb passing for a big man could also allow for more off-ball movement, which the Clippers desperately need.
Gasol’s age and physical limitations make him the least desirable of this bunch. He still can, however, contribute to a championship-level team in spurts, if nothing else because of his high basketball I.Q. and championship experience.
4. Tristan Thompson (Free Agency)
If the Cavaliers decide to keep Andre Drummond next season, Tristan Thompson’s career in Cleveland is likely done for the foreseeable future. His rebounding, high-motor and defensive versatility will surely be sought after in free agency, and the Clippers should do everything they can to convince him to maybe take a little less money in exchange for another chance at a championship.
Thompson isn’t exactly a staunch rim protector, but he’s athletic and big enough as a defender to give teams fits in numerous ways. He can hedge or switch in pick-and-rolls and is an elite rebounder on both ends. He’d bring a much-needed interior presence to the Clippers who is playable at the end of games and against smaller lineups.
Thompson’s issues are his shooting — although he did start shooting more 3-pointers this year — and his consistency. In his playoff games alongside LeBron James, Thompson was sometimes stellar and other times absent. L.A. would probably need him to start and give them the type of energy that Harrell did, although with less scoring and more defense and rebounding.
The Clippers don’t have a lot of cap space, so getting Thompson on a cheaper deal is key. He’s already made over $80 million in his career and may be willing to play for less money if the market for him isn’t overly competitive.
3. Steven Adams (Trade)
Steven Adams will likely be on the trading block this offseason, assuming the Thunder are committed to rebuilding. He has just one season left on his contract, worth $27.5 million, so Oklahoma City should try to get some value for him before he walks in free agency.
The Clippers already got George from the Thunder last year, so it seems the two franchises have a good-enough relationship to make deals. Adams’ trade value is different depending on who you ask, but because the Thunder already have an absurd amount of future and young assets, they may be willing to give him away for a little less than they would normally, if nothing else because they don’t want to lose him for nothing.
Adams is essentially a better version of Zubac. He is a top-level rebounder, a strong interior defender despite not blocking many shots, and can finish at and around the rim when called upon. He also has extensive playoff experience and is improving his passing. He’d fit right in.
The issue is if another team wants Adams and offers a trade package too hefty for the Thunder to decline. The Clippers can’t out-bid other teams since they have so few assets. They’ll have to get a little lucky.
2. Myles Turner (Trade)
Myles Turner provides a different skill set than most others on this list. He’s not a strong rebounder, an elite athlete or adept playmaker with championship experience. Turner is a stretch-five with elite rim protection abilities that is on a fair $18 million contract for the next three seasons.
Getting him might mean parting with Zubac, but Turner has the potential to thrive alongside other elite scorers and playmakers. He’s not a player who can get his own shot and he struggles with consistency at times, but he can hit open jumpers and excels when his confidence is high. He even led the league with 2.7 blocks per game in 2018-2019, according to basketball-reference, so he should help bolster L.A.’s interior defense for future postseasons.
Turner’s presence would allow for a different offensive style for the clippers. They would be able to play five-out without sacrificing rim protection. If Turner can focus more on his defensive rebounding, his value with skyrocket and his contract will look like a steal.
He arguably played his best statistical basketball in the Pacers’ four-game loss to the Heat. Dueling with a surging Bam Adebayo, Turner averaged 15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and four blocks on 56.8% shooting from the floor and 42.9% from behind the arc. Although it’s a small sample size, that’s the ideal production he’d provide the Clippers with.
1. Andre Drummond (Trade Or Free Agency)
It’s unclear why Cleveland traded for two-time All-Star and former All-NBA member Andre Drummond this season. He has a $28.7 million player-option for next season, and if he doesn’t want to waste the end of his prime on a lowly Cavaliers team, he could leave for a longer contract and a better chance at winning.
L.A. would probably have to trade Beverley and Zubac to make the money work, but bringing Drummond in changes everything for the Clippers. He’s not a highly-respected or sought-after player by any means, but he’s consistently been one of the NBA’s best rebounders, rim-runners and big-man defenders throughout his career. Yes, he sometimes gets embarrassed by Joel Embiid and the game’s elite centers, but it wouldn’t matter in L.A. because the opposition has to deal with George and Leonard first, which should allow Drummond to thrive with less attention paid to him on both ends.
Drummond is athletic, large and a player who doesn’t need many shots to impact a game. He’d fit perfectly alongside high-volume shooters like George, Leonard and Williams. Just imagine how many more second-chance opportunities the team would get with Drummond controlling the paint.
The issue with getting him is if he accepts his player-option. He may if he wants to increase his market value and earn a bigger contract in the 2021 offseason, especially since this past season wasn’t kind to his overall reputation since the Pistons traded him for almost nothing. The Clippers should do all they can to convince him to join in free agency and form one of the best big-threes in the league.