This upcoming season will be the fourth of the Kawhi Leonard and Paul George era in Los Angeles and, following three campaigns of general disappointment, there is a feeling that it is now or never for the Clippers.
Both players have one year left on their contracts and, with the pair both missing huge chunks of the recent seasons with various injuries, Ty Lue needs his side to win now.
They performed well in the regular season last year, finishing fifth in the Western Conference, before crashing out of the playoffs in the first round, losing 4-1 to the Phoenix Suns without the services of either George or Leonard for the majority of the series.
Three games into the 2023/24 season, the Clippers finally got a deal done for reigning NBA assists leader James Harden. But they sacrificed depth for a third star who arrives with injury concerns.
But, if all three star players can remain fit, the Clippers may finally have the roster to compete for the NBA Championship.
|2022/23 Los Angeles Clippers
|Result: Lost West First Round vs. PHO Suns
|To win 2023/24 NBA Championship
|To win 2023/24 Western Conference
Leonard was the Clippers' marquee pick-up in 2019, joining after leading the Toronto Raptors to their first-ever championship to team up with the recently-acquired Paul George in LA.
The Small Forward is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time Finals MVP and a five-time All-Star. It is fairly simple, if the Clippers are to ever lift the Larry O’Brien Trophy in this era, they need their star man to be fit.
Leonard has endured far too many injuries over the past few seasons, playing below 60 games in all three of the previous campaigns, and it is no coincidence that the Clippers crashed out of the 2021 playoffs in the Western Conference after he suffered a partial-tear to his ACL in the semi-finals.
The forward had been averaging 30.4 points in that playoff run and, with George also fit and performing well, LA would have likely triumphed over the Suns in the West and made the Finals for the first time in their history.
Leonard has enjoyed an injury-free pre-season and, if that luck continues, with the new player participation rules meaning he will play more often too, the Clippers could be a decent bet to top the West.
Westbrook, winner of the 2017 MVP award, has been on the decline over recent seasons, but there are signs he may have found a home in LA for the first time since leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2019.
The Point Guard joined the LA Lakers earlier this year and saw his shooting stats improve markedly, with his field-goal percentage rising from 41% to 48% and his three-point success up to 35% from 29%.
Lue’s system clearly suits Westbrook, with the experienced guard expected to shoot far less with the likes of Leonard, George and three-point specialist Normal Powell surrounding him.
Now that LA has landed Harden, Westbrook could drop to the bench and provide some instant offense and experience in coach Lue's second unit.
An eight-time All Star, six-time All-NBA, and four-time All-Defensive player, a healthy Paul George is one of the most complete players in the NBA.
Health is the key, though, as he has not played more than 60 games in a season since 2018/19.
Still, he has not averaged less than 20 points per game in a season since he returned from a broken leg and played just six games in 2014/15.
James Harden could be the final piece in Clippers owner Steve Ballmer's Championship-winning puzzle, or it could be another spell featuring a couple months of decent basketball followed by more Harden antics.
You never know what Harden will bring off the court, but on the court, the 34-year-old is still among the best passers in the league.
|Free Agent (two-way contract)
|Kenyon Martin Jr
|Drafted (Round 1, Pick 30)
|Drafted (Round 2, Pick 48)
|Kenyon Martin Jr
The Clippers start the season with a favourable run where they will face the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs and Orlando Magic, all four of whom are projected to finish outside of the play-in places in their respective conferences.
Their first meeting with city-rivals the Lakers comes next, which could provide the first real test of their credentials as potential champions.
The Clippers coped well without George and Leonard for large parts of last season, suggesting that if the pair stay in relatively good health they could make a decent run at topping the West.
With Harden, the Clippers are +650 to win the Western Conference and +1200 to win the NBA Championship.
It is expected that the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns will be hard to beat, but anything can happen if the Clippers star trio stays healthy and engaged for the full season and playoffs.