The Los Angeles Clippers have seemed like title contenders for the last two seasons, but injuries and inconsistencies have prevented the franchise from reaching its potential.
Last season, the Clippers made it to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Los Angeles, though, couldn’t overcome losing Kawhi Leonard to a knee injury, ultimately losing to the Phoenix Suns in six games.
Now, with the future up in the air, the Clippers once again pin their title hopes on Leonard and Paul George.
But their crosstown rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, seem to have passed the Clippers in the Western Conference pecking order thanks to a series of headline roster moves.
Lakers Adding All-Star Talent
The Lakers ran back their NBA championship-winning roster from 2019-2020, but fell short in their title defense last season.
The Lakers shocked the NBA when the team traded away nearly a third of its rotation to acquire Los Angeles native Russell Westbrook.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) August 10, 2021
The nine-time All-NBA performer and one-time league MVP joins a stacked squad in his hometown.
The Lakers landed Westbrook’s services from Washington.
But Los Angeles didn’t stop there.
While the fit may seem imperfect on the surface, putting Davis, James, and Westbrook on floor together affords LA frontline play-makers and defenders that opposing teams will struggle to combat.
Leonard Inks New Deal With The Clippers
Continuing our journey together.
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) August 12, 2021
The Clippers looked like championship contenders prior to Leonard’s knee injury, but that injury shifts the expectations for next season.
The Clippers opted largely to return last season’s roster, rather than reshape it.
That won’t be good enough against the Lakers.
Re-signing Leonard remained a priority, despite the injury.
Leonard inked a new four-year contract worth $176.3 million with Los Angeles on Thursday.
Prior to his ACL injury, the five-time All-Star and two-time Finals MVP averaged 26 points, 6.8 rebounds, and five assists per game with the Clippers.
Did The Clippers Do Enough?
While the timeline for Leonard’s return remains unclear, it seems certain he will miss the majority, if not all, of the 2021-2022 season.
So the Clippers needed to fortify their roster in order to remain competitive out in the West.
The team re-signed point guard Reggie Jackson, who excelled alongside George in Leonard’s absence.
Jackson averaged 21.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game in the eight playoff contests without Leonard.
The team also brought back Nicolas Batum.
The Frenchman helped the Clippers play small-ball with great success this postseason.
Over 10 playoff starts at center, Batum averaged 9.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 2.0 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game.
The Clippers also took a flier on former lottery pick Justise Winslow.
The oft-injured forward tantalized the league with his talent coming out of Duke University, but he has never put it all together.
Winslow may bide time at forward for the Clippers as they await Leonard’s return.
But without Leonard, the Clippers can’t truly challenge their Los Angeles brethren.
The Lakers’ star power far eclipses that of the Clippers.
Even with the emergence of Terance Mann, the Clippers find themselves at a talent deficit.
Their only hope against the Lakers would be the further development of Mann and Luke Kennard.
The team would obviously welcome a late-season return from Leonard.
The Lakers roster remains top-heavy, so the Clippers could close the gap should the Lakers bench underwhelm.