Now that the Los Angeles Clippers have been eliminated from the 2021 NBA Playoffs, the focus in Southern California turns to an important offseason. Will Kawhi Leonard be back next season? Heck, is he going to be completely healthy after missing the Western Conference Finals with a knee injury?
Meanwhile, the Clippers have a couple of other free agents they must focus on without much in terms of financial capital or draft picks to upgrade their roster. It’s in this that we dive into Los Angeles Clippers rumors for the offseason with updates throughout the summer.
Los Angeles Clippers rumors: How Kawhi Leonard’s ACL surgery impacts free agency
Prior to suffering a knee injury in the Western Conference Semifinals, it was a foregone conclusion that Leonard would opt out of his contract. The 30-year-old two-time NBA Finals MVP is slated to earn $36.02 million in 2021-22 and is in line for a supermax contract. Right now, it still stands to reason that Leonard will opt out of said contract even after undergoing surgery to repair a partially torn right ACL.
The good news? Pretty much every recent report suggests that Leonard will return to the Clippers. With that said, he would not commit to re-signing in Los Angeles during the 2020-21 season.
“Just for my situation right now, I’m just focused on this season,” Leonard said back in December. “Not saying I’m going anywhere else or staying here, but I’m just focused on the season. Obviously, if I’m healthy, the best decision is to decline the player option, but that doesn’t mean I’m leaving or staying.”
Obviously, this is the biggest backdrop for the Los Angeles Clippers. If, for some reason, Leonard would to sign with another team, Los Angeles is likely to go into full-scale rebuild mode. Even if Leonard does return, this injury changed the Clippers’ offseason plans. He’s not going to be ready for the start of the 2021-22 season. That’s clear. It also means Los Angeles must add to its rotation via either free agency or the trade market should it want to remain above water early in the campaign.
Los Angeles Clippers free agents
Outside of Leonard, there’s a couple important role players set to hit free agency this summer. Following an awesome playoff performance, veteran guard Reggie Jackson is potentially set to cash in on the open market. Jackson, 31, averaged 17.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists on 41% shooting from distance during the postseason. With Los Angeles slated to be well over the salary cap, it’s going to be interesting to see whether it gets into a potential bidding war for Jackson.
To a lesser extent, former All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins could also draw a ton of interest in free agency. He stepped up in the Western Conference Finals with starting center Ivica Zubac sidelined to injury. While Cousins is not expected to receive a long-term deal on the open market, there’s going to be interest in his services.
Los Angeles Clippers trade targets
While the Clippers don’t have the financial capability of taking on a huge contract without sending salaries elswhere, they do boast a couple intriguing trade chips. That comes in the form of surprising 24-year-old wing Terance Mann and the aforementioned Zubac. They could potentially be packaged with other assets to land an upgrade in the backcourt.
Primarily, point guard is a need with George and Leonard both being forced into quasi-ball handling duties. Rajon Rondo is not the long-term solution and is better suited for backup duties at this stage in his career. It would make sense for the Los Angeles Clippers to look for a point guard on the trade market. If they were to move Mann, Zubac and a salary filler like Marcus Morris, the team could take back roughly $28 million in salary. Here’s some options.
- Malcolm Brogdon: It’s not yet known whether Brogdon will be on the trade block after yet another successful season. However, he’d be a big-time target of the Clippers. The 28-year-old point guard averaged 21.2 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists last season. Perhaps, moving Mann, Zubac and Morris to the Pacers could get this done.
- Collin Sexton: There’s been talk about this high-scoring guard being available in trade talks during the summer. If so, the Los Angeles Clippers would be smart to come calling. Sexton, 22, averaged 24.3 points on a stellar 48% shooting from distance for the Cavaliers last season. While there’s some question about fit here, moving Mann and draft compensation to Cleveland would be seen as a win for the Clippers.
- DeMar DeRozan: A product of Southern California, DeRozan could be eyeing a return to his hometown. He’s slated to his free agency and is a prime sign-and-trade option for multiple contending teams. With Leonard’s injury news, adding DeRozan to the mix could make sense. Once Leonard returns, the Clippers would then go with a small-ball lineup with Paul George playing the four. The question here is whether Mann, Zubac, Morris and a first-round pick would be enough to entice San Antonio.
Los Angeles Clippers free agent targets
Slated to be roughly $37 million over the cap, Los Angeles doesn’t have the financial flexibility to be big-time players in free agency. However, it does have the estimated $5.89 million taxpayer mid-level exception to use. That could be split up to use on a couple players or utilized on one primary piece — especially at point guard. There’s some options here, too.
- Derrick Rose, New York Knicks
- Patrick Mills, San Antonio Spurs
- T.J. McConnell, Indiana Pacers
- Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets (restricted)
- Ish Smith, Washington Wizards