The Clippers looked lost on offense in the second half of each of its final three games against Denver. Their shots weren’t falling, they developed no rhythm and no one attempted to stop the game from being played at the Nuggets’ tempo.
In addition to a new interior presence to counteract other star big men in the Western Conference, L.A. is expected to pursue a playmaker this offseason in effort to create better looks for its stars and control the pace of games.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, for as great as they are, are not natural distributors and appeared incapable of generating offense down the stretch of Game 7. A lead guard should help settle the team down in the future, so here are five players whom the Clippers should target for next year.
All of the following players have to be traded for, and 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. L.A. could also sign-and-trade Montrezl Harrell if needed.
5. Ricky Rubio
Rubio ranks last on this ranking because the Suns may want to keep him, but his market value is solid right now after a strong season. Phoenix could get a decent haul for him that would give them needed depth, and the Clippers are a good landing spot for the nearly 30-year-old point guard.
Rubio averaged 13 points and 8.8 assists per game on a career-high 36.1% shooting from behind the arc this season for a floundering Suns team that only came alive in the bubble. He’s solid on defense and continues to be one of the league’s best facilitators. Rubio should be that much better on a talented roster like the Clippers.
L.A. doesn’t have a bunch of assets to trade, though, so if Rubio is indeed on the trading block, it’s unclear if the Clippers can out-bid other suitors. Still, Rubio would provide L.A. with a stable offensive presence and help them close out games in the playoffs.
4. Lonzo Ball
Something seemed off with Ball in the bubble. There were reports that he was disengaged, and he visibly looked like he wasn’t enjoying himself out on the floor. It’s still unclear if the Pelicans want to move on from him or not, but if they do, the Clippers should pounce.
Ball’s trade value has never been lower after his poor play in the bubble. He did improve his 3-point shooting to a career-high 37.5% this year, but he once again failed to expand the other aspects of his game. For a former No.2 overall pick, Ball has marginally developed since his rookie season.
Returning to his home town of L.A. could give Ball a second chance at greatness. He wouldn’t be asked to do much more than pass and play defense on the Clippers, and perhaps more developed talent around the 22-year-old guard will do him some good. He’d also be around several veterans and play under an experienced coach, so hopefully, he’d buy-in to the culture and be a true team-player.
Concerns about his health, jumpshot and focus are valid, yet Ball could be a high-risk, high-reward kind of acquisition.
3. Chris Paul
Paul returning to the Clippers is just what the team needs. He’d be first on this list if it weren’t a difficult proposition, with his massive $40 million contract and possible disdain for the franchise being major hurdles to overcome.
L.A. has to let go of Beverley, Williams and McGruder to make the money work, and even then they still may need to manufacture cap space or go deep into the luxury tax. It might be worth the trouble, though, because Paul’s leadership and competitiveness would light a much-needed fire under this bunch.
The Clippers lacked any sense of urgency when blowing their 3-1 series lead to Denver. Paul hasn’t historically been the most successful playoff performer, but he never loses as a result of not giving 100% effort. His leadership added to this strong L.A. nucleus would be a great fit and likely maximize the potential of all three stars. Getting the money to work is the only issue.
2. Derrick Rose
Rose is on a modest $7.6 million contract for next season and plays for a franchise with no need for him and no chance at being competitive in the near future. Detroit should undoubtedly trade him, and after averaging about 18 points and five assists over the past two seasons, they should expect a solid return.
The nearly 32-year-old former MVP seems to still have plenty of basketball left in him. He remains a score-first point guard who can carry a team’s offense for stretches and create shots for his teammates. These are exactly the skills the Clippers are looking for, and because he’s on a team-friendly deal, L.A. can retain most of the depth that made it so tough this season.
Injuries are always a concern for Rose, but the Clippers need to capitalize on their championship window as soon as possible. They can’t afford to not take a chance on a player who can be the third-wheel on a championship team, especially with up-and-coming teams like the Nuggets and Mavericks looking poised to dominate the conference for years to come.
1. Jrue Holiday
Holiday is the perfect third-option for a team like the Clippers. He’s one of the best defenders in the league today and can shoot, pass, dribble and drive, all without disrupting the flow of an offense.
The 30-year-old combo guard has never played for a true contender, so it’s likely that he’d be willing to join the Clippers and have a real shot at a ring. His $26 million contract is sizable, but trading Beverley and another player should make it work.
Holiday would surely be a hot commodity if New Orleans made him available for trade, so the Clippers may have to get aggressive in order to acquire him. He’d be worth the trouble, though, as he’d fit the team’s concept perfectly and likely improve their overall defense and offensive efficiency.
Holiday doesn’t often get the respect he deserves as a really good player in the NBA. Going to L.A. would put him in the spotlight and showcase his superb skills. He deserves this chance.