In a slew of moves that changed the NBA last offseason, superstar duos were created all over the league. The likes of Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul switched teams, while the Lakers acquired Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans. But perhaps the most surprising move was the extremely bold move by the Los Angeles Clippers to trade away 5 first-round picks and 2 very good players in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari for superstar Paul George.
This deal made the Los Angeles Clippers a favorite for the NBA title, and in fact, the majority of pundits predicted the Clippers to lift the NBA championship at the end of 2020. That didn’t happen at all as the Clippers struggled with chemistry issues and below-par performances from Paul George. With PG’s lack of impact, the Clippers got bounced in the second round by the Denver Nuggets despite leading 3-1 in the series. This begs the question: how would the Clippers look if they never traded for Paul George?
A Strong Starting Lineup Around Kawhi Leonard
The Clippers would have had Kawhi Leonard, who signed in Free Agency. With this massive acquisition, the Clippers had the Finals MVP from last year and arguably the best 2-way player in the NBA alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo. Kawhi Leonard is big time and the Clippers would have been title contenders with Leonard immediately. But how would the rest of the lineup look?
Paul George averaged 21.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, and 3.9 APG while shooting 43.9% from the floor. These are decent numbers, but very below-par for a superstar of Paul George’s level. If the Clippers never traded for George, they would have retained Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari who both had great seasons this year. Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 19.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 3.3 APG while shooting 47.1%. Gallinari averaged 18.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 1.9 APG while shooting 43.8% from the field. Clearly, both players are not far off from Paul George’s stats and could have actually been more impactful as two fringe All-Stars instead of one.
The Clippers also still have Lou Williams, who averaged 18.2 PPG, and Montrezl Harrell, who won Sixth Man of the Year while averaging 18.6 PPG. The Clippers would have legitimately 4 guys who averaged 18 PPG this season alongside Kawhi Leonard. Paul George, when playing up to his level, is a superstar and has more impact than both Gallinari and Gilgeous-Alexander combined. But that simply wasn’t the case this year.
The Clippers only needed 2 more role players to fill out a rotation that would have placed Harrell and Williams back to the bench as exceptional 6th men. There were plenty during free agency and even in the buyout market, meaning the Clippers could have been more motivated on finding them if they didn’t get George.
Better Team Chemistry With Less Superstar Treatment
Not to mention, the Clippers would have a whopping total of 5 (!) first-round picks that they could have used going forward. Dedicating the entire Clippers’ future to Paul George, who looked average at best considering his standards, has made the OKC Thunder look like the clear winners. Adding to the fact both Gallinari and SGA averaged above 18 PPG this season, this is very frustrating for Clippers Nation.
If they never traded for PG, the Clippers might have had better chemistry as well. It is one thing if the reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard gets superstar treatment and gets his allowance of “load management” throughout the entire season. Leonard proved he knows how to win, and has 2 Finals MVPs with 2 different franchises. But it’s an entirely different thing when another superstar gets the same treatment, especially if he hasn’t won anything yet. There were reports that there was uneasiness in the Clippers locker room of the favoritism showed to Leonard and George. This clearly wasn’t negligible, since the way the Clippers choked this postseason wasn’t normal.
The Clippers were not on the same page, and that is the only way a team with that much talent can choke away a 3-1 lead like that. The massive choke job cost Doc Rivers his job and has also thrown the Clippers’ future into questionable status. There might even be a move to ship Paul George out of town if an appropriate offer comes their way. They have Kawhi Leonard and they must win now. If the Clippers had Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, there would be 0 superstar treatment as both guys are team players who want to continue to improve and play well. SGA is a budding All-Star and Gallinari has had 2 strong seasons in a row as a stretch power forward.
With only Kawhi Leonard resting his body and being the only superstar getting all the favoritism and praise, the rest of the guys might have fallen in line without a massive circus following the Clippers. The superstar duo of George and Leonard might have hurt the franchise, and they are left without 5 valuable first-round picks because of it.