In July 2019, the Los Angeles Clippers signed free agent superstar Kawhi Leonard and traded for perennial All-Star Paul George.
By adding both to a ragtag team that made the playoffs the previous season, many expected the Clippers to not only win the NBA championship but to also become perhaps the greatest defensive team in modern NBA history.
It didn’t exactly happen. Leonard missed quite a few games due to load management; the Clippers were inconsistent defensively all season long; and there were chemistry issues.
It all culminated with the team blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the playoffs in epic fashion.
Since then, it has looked like the Clippers may have maxed out their potential.
But now, with the 2020-21 season on the horizon, the team has been rumored to be interested in trading for a couple of veteran stars.
One of them could be the missing piece.
The Missing Piece?
One star the Clippers have been linked to is Russell Westbrook, the 2016-17 league MVP who averaged a triple-double in three consecutive seasons.
While he’s a very talented and exciting player, he’s unlikely to put the Clippers over the top, as he’s a very poor outside shooter, has a history of choking in the playoffs and seems to lack leadership skills.
The other star is Chris Paul. Paul, of course, spent six seasons with the Clippers not that long ago.
He could be the missing piece that the Clippers have been looking for.
Why Chris Paul?
Paul is coming off an outstanding bounce-back season with the Oklahoma City Thunder in which he averaged 17.6 points and 6.7 assists per game.
He led the Thunder to an unexpected playoff berth, and the team took the more talented Houston Rockets to the very brink of Game 7 before bowing out.
Although he’s 35, Paul is still a very capable floor general and passer, and he can still go off for 25-30 points on any given night.
Paul is also one of the very best in the NBA come crunch time. According to NBA.com, he ranked 11th in the league in clutch points this past season, with “clutch” defined as the last five minutes of a game in which the point differential is five or less.
Paul is also still an adept defender. In the 2019-20 season he put up a 1.4 defensive box plus/minus and had 3.0 defensive win shares.
The Clippers lacked a definitive go-to guy in crunch time all season long, as well as a true point guard or floor general, not to mention a leader on and off the court.
Paul would check all those boxes.
How the Clippers Could Pull It Off
A trade where the Clippers send George and guard Rodney McGruder to the Thunder for Paul works in terms of salary according to ESPN.com’s trade machine.
Losing George would hurt, as he’s a strong one-on-one scorer and defender. But on the other hand, he’s a very inconsistent playoff performer, and it seems there’s friction between him and the rest of the squad.
If the team also manages to re-sign forwards Marcus Morris and Montrezl Harrell, there should be enough offense to go around, even without George. Keep in mind that Morris averaged 19.6 points a game in 43 games for the New York Knicks this past season before being dealt to the Clippers.
Morris can be an excellent third scorer for the team, and come crunch time, Paul would be “the man.”
If the Clippers roster looked as described above in the playoffs weeks ago, I’m very confident they would’ve gotten past the Nuggets and at least had a shot at conquering the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers.