After the Los Angeles Clippers signed Kawhi Leonard and Paul George during the 2019 offseason, NBA fans and experts penciled them in for the 2020 title. Leonard and George struggled with injuries and chemistry issues throughout the year, eventually losing to the Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals. Then they struggled again during the 2020-21 season, getting clipped by the Suns in the Western Conference Finals. And then they missed the playoffs entirely this year.
Adding insult to injury (pun intended), the Clippers had the third-highest payroll in the league during the 2021-22 season at $168,378,382. Despite three years of setbacks, Steve Ballmer still has faith in his core. And he is still willing to put his pocketbook on the line for his organization, evidenced by Robert Covington’s upcoming two-year, $24 million extension that will push the Clippers’ tax bill to at least $54.9 million and ensure they have one of the most expensive rosters again in 2022-23.
Nobody can predict how the Clippers will perform next season and if their hefty payroll will pay off. However, we can break down the Clippers’ player status for the 2022-23 season and examine what the front office will likely do with each member of the roster.
Kawhi Leonard - $42.9 Million
Entering 2nd Season Of A 4-Year, $176 Million Contract (2022-23: $42.9 Million, 2023-24: $45.6 Million, 2024-25: $48.8 Million Player Option)
Kawhi Leonard signed with the Clippers during the 2019 offseason, roughly one month after Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers. Leonard has played 109 games throughout his three seasons in LA and reached the Western Conference Finals. At the same time, Davis has appeared in 138 games during his three seasons in LA, hanging a banner in 2020. Despite Kawhi Leonard’s inability to stay on the court and help the Clippers advance deep in the postseason, his reputation has remained mostly unscathed, while AD’s name has been dragged through the mud and torn to shreds. That’s the difference between playing for the Lakers and LA’s other team.
Kawhi Leonard’s numbers on the Clippers are impressive. He’s averaged 26.0 PPG and 6.8 RPG while notching 5.0 assists per game, a clear indication he’s upped his playmaking skills throughout his time in LA. He’s also one of the premier one-on-one defenders in the NBA, a player capable of stifling positions 1 through 4. Still, Leonard hasn’t played over 60 games in five seasons (he’s averaged 35.6 games played from 2017-18 to 2021-22), yet he’ll soak up a little over 25% of the Clippers cap sheet next season and the following two years.
If a player suffers through one or two injury-riddled seasons, perhaps it is an outlier, a string of bad luck that can be dismissed. But Kawhi Leonard’s streak of five in-and-out-of-the-lineup seasons is a pattern that can’t be written off, and will likely continue next year. So, we must ask a simple question: Can the Clippers win the title if their star player misses at least 25% of the season?
It’s possible, but we know the teams that have performed the best during the 2021-22 season (the Warriors, Suns, 76ers, Heat, Grizzlies, Mavs, Bucks, and Timberwolves) had excellent injury luck and minimal roster turnover, all of which helped them create the type of chemistry necessary to rack up wins in this modern version of the NBA.
Paul George - $42.9 Million
Entering 2nd Season Of A 4-Year, $176 Million Contract (2022-23: $42.9 Million, 2023-24: $45.6 Million, 2024-25: $48.8 Million Player Option)
Paul George is on the same 4-year, $176 million contract as Kawhi Leonard, meaning together, they’ll eat up over half of the Clippers cap sheet for the next three seasons. Paul George, like Leonard, has also been bitten by the injury bug during his three seasons on the Clippers, playing in only 133 games during his time in Los Angeles (which is also less than Anthony Davis).
Outside of George’s injury woes, he is one of the league’s premier two-way wings, a player who has been selected to the All-NBA team six times during his career while landing on the All-Defensive squad four times. Paul George hasn’t performed at his peak Pacers or Thunder level in Los Angeles. However, he averaged 22.9 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.8 APG, and 1.5 SPG while shooting 39.8% from deep during his three years with the Clippers. PG13 has been an excellent Robin to Leonard’s Batman, providing floor spacing, supplementary shot creation in the half-court, and top-10 perimeter defense. Overall, George and Leonard have played 81 regular season games together for the Clippers, compiling a 59-21 record, which is better than it seems, considering neither player has had the time necessary to build any type of intuitive championship-level chemistry.
For all of Paul George’s regular season success in Los Angeles, he’s nosedived in the playoffs, shooting 33.5% from deep and 42.5% overall from the field throughout the 2020 and 2021 postseasons.
Paul George, 32, is still in his prime, and in theory, he is more than capable of being the second best player on a championship squad. Theories are fine and all, but in reality, PG13 hasn’t come close to helping the Clippers reach the mountaintop. Still, if George and Leonard manage to navigate through the 2022-23 season unscathed, they have the tools to hang a banner next year.
Norman Powell - $16.8 Million
Entering 2nd Season Of A 5-Year, $90 Million Contract (2022-23: $16.8 Million, 2023-24: $18.0 Million, 2024-25: $19.2 Million, 2025-26: $20.5 Million)
Norman Powell was the third Los Angeles wing to fall victim to the Clippers’ injury curse this season, missing all but five games in 2022 with the Red and Blue after he was traded from the Trail Blazers. Norman Powell, 28, might be the most talented spot-up shooter in the NBA. He averaged 1.27 points per possession on 5.3 spot-up attempts per game across 40 contests with Portland this season (95.2 percentile), and he averaged a massive 1.55 points per possession in five games with the Clippers (99.6 percentile).
At 6-3, 215 pounds, Powell doesn’t have the prototypical length to act as a lockdown defender, and more powerful players tend to bully him on the block. Still, he gives 110% on the less fun end, taking pride in harassing his assignments in one-on-one situations while fighting hard through screens. Overall, Norman Powell has a -0.2 Defensive Box Plus/Minus for his career, but he’s not the type of weak-link defender opposing squads can hunt on switches during the fourth quarter.
The Clippers have Norman Powell locked up through the 2026 season, teaming up one of the league’s five most effective outside weapons with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, two players who can’t be contained in isolation sets. On paper, this is a trio made to destroy opposing defenses.
Reggie Jackson - $11.2 Million
Entering Final Season Of A 2-Year, $21.6 Million Contract
The Los Angeles Clippers were one of the most injured teams in the league this season, thrusting Reggie Jackson into a much more significant role in 2021-22 than he’s capable of handling.
Here’s a year-to-year breakdown:
In 2020-21, Reggie Jackson averaged 23.0 MPG while shooting 8.7 field goal attempts, connecting on 43.3% of his attempts from deep and 45.0% overall.
In 2021-22, Reggie Jackson averaged 31.2 MPG while shooting 16.3 field goal attempts, connecting on 32.6% of his attempts from deep and 39.2% overall.
Reggie Jackson is an excellent short-burst offensive weapon. He features a solid first step to the rim, a sweet three-point shot, and top-40 vision. Assuming everything works out as planned and the Clippers enter next season healthy, it would be easy to envision Jackson playing the role of backup point guard for LA’s reserve unit when Kawhi Leonard and Paul George rest on the bench.
Robert Covington - $12.0 Million
Entering 1st Season Of a 2-Year, $24 Million Contract Extension
Late last week Robert Covington and the Clippers agreed to a two-year, $24 million contract extension, but the year-to-year details have yet to be released, so we’ll assume it’s something like $12 million per year.
The Clippers acquired Robert Covington in a trade deadline deal with the Trail Blazers. He made an immediate impact in Los Angeles, hitting 45.0% of his shots from deep off 4.7 attempts. While Covington wasn’t a premier lockdown wing (48.3 DFG%), he played excellent team defense, working as a disruptor by racking up 2.7 deflections per game and 1.1 loose balls recovered per game. Robert Covington was also an ideal help defender, lighting up opposing wings with quick double-teams before rotating back to his man on the perimeter.
Robert Covington was a +/- hero for the Clippers, ending his 23-game 2022 stint with at +15.4 points per 100 possessions, a mark that was in the 99th percentile among all NBA forwards. Covington is a lengthy 3-and-D wing the Clippers can use off the bench next season or who’ll be able to slide into the starting lineup after the eventual Paul George or Kawhi Leonard injury.
Marcus Morris - $16.4 Million
Entering 3rd Season Of a 4-Year, $64 Million Contract (2022-23: $16.4 Million, 2023-24: $17.1 Million)
Marcus Morris gives the Clippers solid multi-leveled shooting:
0-3 Feet: 68.8%
3-10 Feet: 49.0%
10-16 Feet: 47.0%
16 feet-3P: 42.4%
Marcus Morris has a better-than-average outside stroke as a floor-spacing spot-up shooter, and he’s also a solid ancillary scoring outlet for the Clippers, capable of working in the mid-range, hitting off-the-dribble jumpers with regularity.
Still, outside of his decent shooting ability, he doesn’t offer much else. He’s a black hole with the ball on offense, ending the 2021-22 season with a 23.2 Usage Percent (4th on the Clippers) while averaging only 2.1 assists per game, frequently stalling Clippers possessions instead of swinging the ball to one of his teammates for a better shot opportunity. Morris, at 6-8, 218-pounds, often played with an enforcer attitude for the Clippers after possessions were over, scowling at opposing players, but he often abandoned that tough-nosed frame of mind when the ball was live, pulling down only 4.4 RPG along with a measly 0.3 BPG while allowing his assignments to shoot 1.5% over their normal average.
The Clippers are loaded with 3-and-D wings who play better two-way basketball than Marcus Morris. However, they only have one reliable rotation point guard on their roster, Reggie Jackson. Los Angeles management would be wise to trade Marcus Morris this offseason for another playmaking guard.
Ivica Zubac - $7.5 Million (Team Option)
Entering Final Season Of A 4-Year, $28.5 Million Contract (2022-23: $7.5 Million Team Option)
Ivica Zubac enters the offseason with a $7.5 million team option, and the Clippers could make an excellent case for keeping Zubac or for letting him walk.
The case for keeping Ivica Zubac is simple. Seven out of the final 8 teams left in the playoffs feature an excellent defensive center—Brook Lopez (Bucks), Bam Adebayo (Heat), Robert Williams (Celtics), Joel Embiid (76ers), Deandre Ayton (Suns), Draymond Green (Warriors), and Jaren Jackson Jr. (Grizzlies). While Zubac isn’t quiet in their tier, he’s a better option than anything the strapped-for-cash Clippers will find in free agency. He’s a true 7-footer on a reasonable contract who nearly averaged a double-double during the regular season (10.3 PPG and 8.5 RPG) while offering solid rim protection (3.5 BLK%, good for 17th in the NBA).
The case for the Clippers to let Zubac walk can be seen in his fit with the rest of the roster. Zubac differs significantly from the top defensive centers with his mobility on the perimeter. The Clippers can’t play the type of switch-heavy defensive schemes they were built for with Zubac on the court because opposing guards break him down by the arc with ease. Overall, Ivica Zubac finished the regular season with an ugly -8.6 +/- mark per 100 possessions, which landed in the 12th percentile among all centers in the NBA.
In the end, the Clippers should probably exercise their team option for Ivica Zubac. His size will be essential for Los Angeles in the playoffs, and if he struggles again next season, they can let him walk.
Terance Mann - $1.9 Million (Team Option That Was Exercised)
Entering Final Season Of A 4-Year, 6.2 Million Contract, Signed 2-Year, $22 Million Extension On October 12, 2021 (2022-23: $1.9 Million, 2023-24: $10.6 Million, 2024-25: $11.4 Million)
Terrance Mann is another one of the Clippers’ long and athletic wings. Mann averaged 10.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.6 APG, and 0.7 SPG while shooting 36.5% from deep during the regular season while giving the Clippers excellent two-way play. He did his finest James Harden impersonation on offense, taking roughly 80% of his shots in the lane or from beyond the arc, connecting on an excellent 69.0% of his attempts at the rim and an above-average mark from deep. At the same time, he finished second on the Clippers in Defensive Win Shares (2.4), playing 110% perimeter defense as their top ballhawk behind George and Leonard.
The Clippers have Terrance Mann signed through 2025 as a player who should provide them with excellent off-the-bench wing play throughout his contract.
Luke Kennard - $13.7 Million
Entering 2nd Season Of A 4-Year, $64 Million Contract (2022-23: $13.7 Million, 2023-24: $14.8 Million, 2024-25: $14.8 Million Team Option)
Luke Kennard ended the 2021-22 season as the league’s number one three-point shooter with a 44.9% hit rate from deep off 6.0 attempts per game. Kennard was also one of the premier clutch players in the NBA, connecting on 10 of 15 total three-point attempts (66.7%) in crunch time while hitting a couple of game-winning shots.
Luke Kennard is nowhere near a lockdown defender. At the same time, he’s also nowhere near a Trae Young or Donovan Mitchell type of weak link defender who opposing teams can exploit off switches during late-game situations. Kennard ended the season holding his assignments to a solid 45.7% clip from the field, and he finished 8th on the Clippers in DWS (1.7).
Luke Kennard’s combination of long distance shooting, clutch play, and passable defense makes his contract one of the premier role player deals in the league.
Nicolas Batum - $3.3 Million (Player Option)
Entering Final Season Of A 2-Year, $6.5 Million Contract (2022-23: $3.3 Million Player Option)
Nicolas Batum finished the 2021-22 season ranked 24th in the NBA in long distance shooting with a 40.0% three-point mark. Beyond spotting up from deep, Batum added a tad of playmaking and the occasional slash to the rim for the Clippers. Batum also averaged 2.1 deflections nightly while playing solid one-on-one perimeter defense.
Overall, Batum was a top-25 3-and-D wing, and although the Clippers are stocked with long wings who play a similar role, they’ll be thrilled if he opts into his incredibly cheap $3.3 million player option for next season.
Isaiah Hartenstein - Unrestricted Free Agent
Isaiah Hartenstein morphed from a primarily unknown player to one of the most intriguing young big men in the NBA during the regular season. Hartenstein provided the Clippers with excellent rim protection when he was on the court with a 5.4 block percentage, a figure that would have landed him 6th in the NBA if he’d played enough to qualify for the leaderboard. He also proved a solid post defender with the side-to-side agility to stay in front of smaller wings on the perimeter.
Isaiah Hartenstein worked well on the fun side of the ball, showing a solid bag of tricks in the post while hitting 46.7% from deep (albeit off only 0.4 attempts per game). He was a willing passer, notching 2.4 assists per contest, and he attacked the offensive glass, snagging 1.7 offensive rebounds per game.
Isaiah Hartenstein should be one of the Clippers’ top priorities this offseason. They should sign him to a multi-year deal. Even if they don’t end up trading Marcus Morris this summer, they should insert the younger and better overall Hartenstein into the starting lineup at the power forward position, creating a Hawks or Celtics style modern Twin Towers with Ivica Zubac.
Rodney Hood - Unrestricted Free Agent
The Clippers acquired Rodney Hood from the Milwaukee Bucks in a February trade. Hood played 13 games in Los Angeles, averaging 2.6 PPG, 0.8 RPG, and 0.6 APG. Rodney Hood struggled to crack the Clippers’ rotation, and it’s unlikely they’ll resign him during the offseason.
Jason Preston - $1.6 Million
Entering 2nd Season Of A 3-Year, 4.5 Million Contract (2022-23: $1.6 Million, $1.8 Million Not Fully Guaranteed)
The Clippers drafted Jason Preston with the 33rd pick in the 2021 draft. Unfortunately, the Ohio University product suffered a right foot injury before the season began, and he missed the entire year. The Clippers have Preston signed through the next two seasons and will be able to evaluate the 6-4 point guard during the preseason.
Brandon Boston Jr. - $1.6 Million
Entering 2nd Season Of A 3-Year, $4.3 Million Contract (2022-23: $1.6 Million, 2023-24: $1.8 Million Not Fully Guaranteed)
Brandon Boston Jr. was ranked 4th in his 2020 recruiting class heading into his first year at Kentucky and was mocked as high as number two in the 2021 draft. Then Boston broke his finger during the summer before his first year in college began, which set him back significantly. After that, the Coronavirus showed up, and half of the college season was canceled. Finally, Kentucky missed the NCAA tournament. After the dust settled from Boston’s disastrous freshman campaign, he plummeted to the 51st overall pick in the 2021 draft.
Brandon Boston Jr. didn’t play much during his first season with the Clippers, but he’s a three-level scorer who could carve out a role in Los Angeles as soon as next season.
Amir Coffey - $1.6 Million (Qualifying Offer)
Amir Coffey played a fairly significant role for the Clippers during the 2021-22 season, averaging 22.7 minutes across 69 games. He averaged 9.0 PPG while shooting 37.8% from deep and playing solid perimeter defense. Coffey, 24, is a solid 3-and-D wing in a league fascinated by players with his precise skill set. He’ll almost certainly get a solid offer from another squad, and the Clippers will probably pass in search of help at the power forward or center positions.
The Clippers Have The Talent To Hang A Banner If They Remain Healthy During The 2022-23 Season
You’ve heard this song before, but it’s still true: The combination of a healthy Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Norman Powell, Robert Covington, and Isaiah Hartenstein has it all — shooting, shot creation, perimeter defense, and rim protection. On paper, this would be a lethal closing unit.
The Clippers are also loaded with depth. Luke Kennard is one of the most skilled long distance shooters in the league, and Nicolas Batum isn’t far behind him. Terrance Mann and Reggie Jackson feature excellent playmaking skills and defense, and Ivica Zubac is a solid two-way center.
Health will be the major issue for the Clippers as always. Los Angeles could head into the 2023 postseason as the frontrunner for the title if they keep their core on the floor.