Clippers season preview: Best team in L.A. again?

The most anticipated season in Los Angeles Clippers history is upon us, one that will carry the heavy burden of expectation for a franchise with zero championships and zero Finals appearances in its history. Heck, the team has only made it to the Conference finals twice in its 53-season history.

Finals or bust may be unfair, but with how loaded the Clippers project is, led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who will be surrounded by good-to-great role players, maybe that should be the team’s goal for the upcoming campaign.

Below, we preview the 2022-23 Los Angeles Clippers season.

Roster changes

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Returning: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Norman Powell, Marcus Morris, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson, Ivica Zubac, Terance Mann, Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington, BJ Boston, Jason Preston, Amir Coffey, Xavier Moon

Additions: John Wall (Houston), Moses Brown (Cleveland), Juwan Morgan (Boston), Michael Devoe (Georgia Tech), Lucas Williamson (Loyola Chicago), Moussa Diabate (Michigan)

Subtractions: Isaiah Hartenstein, Rodney Hood, Jay Scrubb

Strengths

paul george
paul george

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* Star power up top… It’s not a secret that to compete at a championship level, you need at least one superstar at the top of your rotation. Having potentially two as the Clippers do doesn’t hurt, however. It remains to be seen how Leonard will look in his return from a year-plus-long layoff due to a major knee injury, but if he’s back to looking like his old self, L.A. will have a tough-shot-making, top-notch defending two-way wing, one with two Finals MVP awards in his trophy case. Alongside him, George has likewise proven to be one of the best two-way wings in the sport, also capable of hitting shots from all over the floor no matter the defense, as well as locking up opposing top-option players. That’s undoubtedly a one-two punch that can compete for a championship in 2022-23.

* Strong pieces surrounding an elite 1-2 punch… Of course, besides star power, teams need players who are stars in their complementary roles to compete for titles, and the Clippers have just that. Los Angeles boasts a roster that legitimately goes 11 deep – just scroll down and check out its depth chart if you don’t believe us – with George and Leonard surrounded by elite shooting, two-way pieces and serviceable big men. Just some of those players include Norman Powell, an elite outside shooter, Robert Covington, a solid 3-and-D wing, Terance Mann, a positionally versatile ball-handler who really competes defensively and Ivica Zubac, a strong screen setter and pick-and-roll threat.

That’s without even discussing the Clippers’ two point guards, John Wall and Reggie Jackson, who will have nights where they take over, although consistency could be an issue for them. Luke KennardMarcus Morris and Nic Batum, whose skill sets are well-known even by casual fans, make up the rest of what could be the deepest rotation in basketball next season.

* The rotation has isolation scoring, pick-and-roll threats, shooting, defense and toughness… There may be some who think we’re overselling the Clippers here, but the roster truly has a bit of everything, which is why so many believe they head into next season as title favorites. Wall and Mann can run the pick-and-roll while Zubac can finish out of the popular play type; Leonard, George and Jackson can handle the one-on-one scoring; Powell, Kennard and Morris can knock down shots as three-point threats; while Mann, Morris and Covington will provide defense and toughness. The roster isn’t perfect top to bottom but it has enough variety to make the Clippers scary heading into next campaign.

* Tyronn Lue is a top-notch head coach… Last season, without Leonard all year and without George for most of the campaign, Tyronn Lue still led the Clippers to a 42-40 season, just missing out on the playoffs after reaching the play-in tournament. Couple that with his work in the prior seasons for L.A., as well as his championship run with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it’s clear Lue gets a ton out of his players and is one of the best head coaches currently in the NBA.

Weaknesses

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* Consistency on offense could be an issue… With Leonard returning from such a long layoff, it’ll be hard for the Clippers to rely on him on a nightly basis, at least early in 2022-23. And George, despite his superstar status, does rely on a lot of shots with a high degree of difficulty to score. That brings us to our point, that on some nights when those shots aren’t falling for Leonard or George, the Clippers could struggle to score at a high enough level to win. On those nights, it’ll be up to the likes of Kennard, Morris and Powell to hit enough shots for Los Angeles to pull out victories, which might not be a formula for a 60-win regular season.

* Injuries could be their downfall… With Leonard on the wrong side of 30 and already coming off of a major injury and George likewise coming off a season-ending injury, the Clippers will have to be smart with the load management surrounding their two best players. Los Angeles has enough to win in the regular season without one of those two pieces, but if either goes down for the long haul, the Clippers’ championship hopes will greatly suffer for it.

* Is there enough of the ball to go around? With such a deep rotation, will every player on the roster get enough looks to keep them happy for a full season? Leonard and George will get theirs, but does that leave enough shots for eight other players who are going to play a lot? And if not, will the players who have certain nights where they get four field-goal attempts buy in enough to stay happy, or will the complaints start early?

* Backup center… Who is it on this roster? Moses Brown, young but with some talent, will get a look there. As will Morris, Mann and Batum on some nights, according to Lue. But what about on nights where the team has to face a Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid? Sure, those two guys are going to give 29 teams loads of trouble, but a backup center with size and experience would help the Clippers a lot.

* Playmaking could be an issue… Unless the Clippers somehow get a prime-level Wall (unlikely), the roster will continue having the problem it’s had in this new era: a lack of playmaking. George and Leonard can pass some but they’re one-on-one scorers first and foremost, while Jackson likewise uses picks to find his own shot. A high-level playmaker is nowhere to be found on this roster, which is why Wall is going to be important to L.A.’s championship chances – a scary notion considering how long it’s been since he has played high-pressure minutes.

Depth chart

Possible moves

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The Clippers are entering the season with a $192 million payroll and a $144.7 million luxury tax projection. Their roster is mostly set with players that project to fit their style so they will likely head into the season with their group. With payroll and luxury tax not a limitation, they should be open for deals that improve their title odds.

They have an open roster spot as well as an open two-way slot. There is no rush to add a 15th player but they could use it on a backup big man on a non-guaranteed salary like they did with Isaiah Hartenstein last season. They could also use their $9.7 million trade exception to acquire such a player, though doing so would significantly increase their luxury tax bill. – Yossi Gozlan

Salaries

Prediction

3rd in the Pacific division, 3rd in the Western Conference (as voted by the HoopsHype staff)

Story originally appeared on HoopsHype