With a Game 6 loss to the Phoenix Suns, the LA Clippers have been eliminated from the 2021 NBA Playoffs.
It brings an end to a historic season for the Clippers, who defeated the Dallas Mavericks in the first round and the Utah Jazz in the second round to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.
The Clippers can now shift their focus to what is going to be an important offseason.
The 2021 NBA Draft
Picks: No. 25
Targets that fit a need: Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois), Jaden Springer (Tennessee), Tre Mann (Florida)
The Clippers have one first-round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft - No. 25 overall.
In my post-lottery Mock Draft, I had the Clippers targeting Illinois junior guard Ayo Dosunmu with their first-round pick, aiming to fill the void for a true floor general. While Reggie Jackson appeared to be capable of handling that in the postseason, the 31-year-old guard only signed a one-year, $2.3 million deal this past offseason. Set to enter free agency unrestricted after a strong playoff run, we'll see what type of money he commands and if the Clippers will be willing to meet his price tag.
Luckily for LA, there are a lot of solid guard prospects floating around that No. 25 pick range. While Dosunmu is one of my personal favourites with good size, great leadership skills, sound pick-and-roll play, stout defence and a strong ability to get downhill and put pressure on the rim, there are a handful of other names the Clippers could consider if they aim for a guard.
Tennessee's Jaden Springer would give them another lockdown perimeter defender and Florida's Tre Mann would add a perimeter scoring threat with some raw playmaking skills. Additionally, Baylor's Jared Butler could fall in the draft given his unknown health circumstances. He's currently in the NBA's "Plan to Play" protocol, but he would be a valuable asset to any team that selects him if he is cleared.
The Clippers are actually at an ideal spot in the draft to fit a potential need.
- Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)
Upcoming free agents
It's going to be an interesting summer for the Clippers.
The headliner: Kawhi Leonard has a player option worth $36.0 million for the 2021-22 season. If he declines that option, which he is expected to do because it would set him up to sign a contract that will pay him more annually, he will become an unrestricted free agent.
"Obviously, if I'm healthy, the best decision is to decline the player option," Leonard said earlier this season. "But that doesn't mean I'm leaving or staying. I'm focused on the season, like I said. We'll talk about that when the time is right."
Serge Ibaka also has a player option for the 2021-22 season, his worth $9.7 million.
Ibaka started in 39 of the 41 games he appeared in this season, posting averages of 11.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks on 51.0 percent shooting from the field and 33.9 percent from 3-point range. He missed 30 straight games in the lead up to the playoffs and underwent season-ending back surgery following two postseason games.
Meanwhile, Patrick Patterson, Nicolas Batum, Reggie Jackson and DeMarcus Cousins will each be unrestricted free agents. Amir Coffey will be LA's only restricted free agent.
|Unrestricted Free Agent(s)||Restricted Free Agent(s)||Player Option(s)|
|Patrick Patterson||Amir Coffey||Kawhi Leonard|
|Nicolas Batum||Serge Ibaka|
According to RealGM's Keith Smith, the maximum amount of cap space the Clippers can create this offseason is $8.5 million.
- Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)
Now, what can this team do to improve?
When the Clippers acquired Leonard and Paul George in 2019, they were almost immediately viewed as a title favourite.
After Year 1 came to a disappointing end, Year 2 was marred by the injuries to Leonard and Ibaka that had the team undermanned during the Western Conference Finals. That they got there was an impressive feat in itself.
But in the West, it's not going to get any easier. The Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz are just three of many teams that will look to improve this offseason.
Jackson, who stepped up time and time again this postseason, has without a doubt outplayed his $2.3 million contract. As a key component of what this team does, paying the 31-year-old free agent almost seems inevitable, though it takes away financial flexibility.
Last offseason saw the team make a coaching change and a few roster adjustments, namely the swap of Landry Shamet for Luke Kennard, who is now locked in as a member of the franchise's future. Is there another move to be made this offseason? Does the team run it back based on the premise that health is the main key to success?
Let's not overlook Leonard's impending free agency, either. All signs indicate that he'll return, but his status as a free agent could be enough to push this front office to exhaust all options with a goal of improving the roster this offseason.
LA went all-in to get George in 2019 but does it have any other assets to part ways with to bring more talent in? The Milwaukee Bucks are the most recent example of going all the way in, parting ways with future pieces to build a big three around Giannis Antetokounmpo, who then signed long-term.
It may take some gymnastics, but to keep the championship window open around Leonard and George, the Clippers are going to have to figure something out.
With two All-Stars in Leonard and George, the Clippers aren't in a bad spot by any means. But Leonard will be 30 next season, George 31. The championship window is still open, but the clock is certainly ticking.
- Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21)
One key stat
Prior to his injury, Leonard was averaging 30.4 points per game on .573/.393/.880 shooting splits in the playoffs.
According to Stathead, Leonard is now one of only three players in NBA history to average at least 30 points on 67.0 true shooting percentage - a catch-all statistic that accounts for field goals, 3-point field goals and free throws - in the postseason. The two other players? Donovan Mitchell (2019-20) and Reggie Miller (1992-93).
The difference is Mitchell and Miller appeared in a combined 11 games when they did it, whereas Leonard played in 11.
Who knows what the Clippers could've done had Leonard been healthy.
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