In the summer of 2019, the Los Angeles Clippers shocked the basketball world by acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, putting together the best two-way pair of star players the game had seen since Scottie Pippen and Michael Jordan. The moves put the league on notice as Kawhi was coming off a finals MVP season, and Paul George was in the running for the regular season MVP as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. It seemed like a championship was all but certain for the Clippers, with their two new stars at the peak of their powers.
The complete opposite happened, as playoff mishaps coupled with health concerns to Kawhi Leonard left the Clippers constantly falling short. Naturally, most of the blame fell on George, their other star that struggled immensely in the NBA bubble. George would bounce back in last year’s playoffs, but without Leonard, the Phoenix Suns just proved to be too much for the short-handed Clippers to handle. This time, however, there would be no ridicule of Paul George.
“He is the kind of guy that plays better as a 1A. He is more aggressive, he is locked in and does everything that you need him to do. When he is a 1B, he struggles a little bit.”
Richard Jefferson, ">NBA Today
The statement from Jefferson initially comes across as a rather obvious take, as a player who is the first option is more involved on offense and will have more opportunities to produce. We have seen this many times before; when stars go down, another player usually picks up the slack and moves into a much more significant role.
On the other hand, other players, such as Kyrie Irving, have had more success as a secondary star of the team. Hence, it doesn’t always follow that being the first option leads to better output offensively, but this certainly seems to be the case with George. George is much better without Kawhi on the floor, so if he is not at optimal performance when Leonard is available, then it’s worth questioning if the two are complementary pieces or redundancy of skill sets?
Jefferson’s comments suggest the latter. With that, could the Clippers perhaps look at moving one of their two stars for a more complementary piece? It seems unlikely now, but with a few more seasons of playoff disappointment, this could eventually be an option for the team. The last thing the Clippers would want is for one of their stars to decrease in value before it’s too late, similar to the situation in Philadelphia at the moment. If the Clippers decide to make the intelligent move early, then here are three trades that would be available to them.
Paul George and Marcus Morris Sr. to the Portland TrailBlazers for Damian Lillard
Damian Lillard is struggling to start the season, and the rumor mill is churning as to whether this is a deliberate attempt to force his way out of Portland or not. While that theory seems a bit radical, we know Lillard wants to win championships; Dame and Kawhi on the Clippers would be able to do just that.
As for PG, we know he plays well alongside scoring guards as his best year in the league was spent playing alongside Russel Westbrook. CJ McCollum is not Russ, but he is a guy that can set the table for George that also has the ability to score off of PG’s action. In CJ and Norman Powell, PG would be playing with the Portland versions of Reggie Jackson and Terrence Mann. Throw in Marcus Morris, and you have the makings of the team that almost took the Clippers to the Finals last year.
Kawhi Leonard for Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson
New York has long been searching for their big-name star, and trading their young pieces for Leonard would give them just that. Randle and Robinson are fine pieces, but they’re not going to win you championships the way Leonard can. The Knicks have a much longer championship window than the Clippers do, so New York could take time to build around Leonard while he is out. The increased opportunity for some of their young players could lead to the discovery of talent and potential trade chips. George would then lead the Clippers while having a pick and roll threat that can create offense for others in Randle and a lob threat in Robinson.
Kawhi Leonard or Paul George for Ben Simmons
George for Simmons seems like the more logical choice here, given Philly’s championship aspirations this year. The Clippers knew heading into the season that they would have to wait for next year to compete for a chip, so taking on Simmons and giving him time to build chemistry with the rest of the team will be excellent preparation for Kawhi’s return. The Clippers need a point guard, and there are very few better than Simmons when it comes to getting players involved. Simmons would elevate the play of Reggie Jackson and other potent scorers while giving the Clippers another lockdown defender at multiple positions.
George gives the Sixers a playmaker that can shoot it well from deep with remarkable talents on the defensive side of the ball. George wouldn’t be the first option in Philadelphia, but he would be the team’s primary shot creator tasked with scoring and getting Joel Embiid the ball in the right spots.
If Leonard were the one to be dealt, then Philly would have to wait another year to fulfill their title hopes, but I don’t need to tell you how scary the Embiid-Kawhi duo would be.
The Clippers’ season does not seem too promising given Leonard’s absence. They may not compete for a championship, but in trying to win games without Kawhi, the Clippers might find out that the keys to the city should have been given to Paul George after all.