Draft day is finally here! For the LA Clippers, it’s going to be a long night, as they are not set to select until the 43rd pick. Last year, the New Orleans Pelicans took Texas power forward Greg Brown III 43rd and traded his draft rights to the Portland Trail Blazers. Brown was selected at 8:57 p.m. PDT, three hours and 49 minutes after the Pistons selected Cade Cunningham No. 1. So go ahead and set your clocks accordingly.
We have covered a lot of the draft already, leading with my potential Clippers targets a week ago. I have also included my thoughts on Kyrie Irving’s status as a (prohibitive) trade target. And this week, we went through free agent targets as well; the NBA Draft simply sets up the main event of the offseason, which is veteran player movement.
With all of that said, there are some notebook items entering the draft:
Kawhi Leonard’s positive progress
Unlike most NBA teams, the Clippers do not have much going on this offseason. They did not make the playoffs, giving them their longest offseason since 2018. But they had two lottery picks in 2018; this year, they have no first-round picks. The front office is in place, led by Lawrence Frank and Michael Winger since 2017. The head coach, Tyronn Lue, is in place. And the superstars are in place; Leonard and Paul George, who both arrived in 2019 and extended their contracts after and before the 2020-21 season, respectively.
The primary item to watch this offseason is Leonard’s recovery from surgery to repair the ACL in his right knee, which took place last July. I am told Leonard has not been restricted at all this month as he continues what has been to this point a successful rehabilitation process. Leonard has also been locked in mentally, as multiple sources suggest the mental hurdles that usually come with an ACL injury and long-term rehab have not deterred him. Though Leonard appears to be bigger, he has actually slimmed down at this point in his recovery and is continuing to take care of his body.
The Clippers have been very careful not to put any kind of timeline on Leonard’s recovery and have given very few significant updates on his progress. That will likely continue after the draft, as there’s no advantage to Leonard or the team to provide timely updates when Week 1 of the NBA season is not until mid-October. But the optimism surrounding Leonard’s improvement, however guarded, seems to be validated by those who have been around him regularly. That has especially been the case since the season ended two months ago.
Mini Clip Camp
San Diego is Leonard’s offseason domain, and the San Diego State product has his giant handprint logo on the JAM Center on campus where the Clippers held training camp last autumn. Last week, several Clippers descended upon America’s Finest City to join Leonard for a minicamp session.
The range of Clippers was expansive. George was there with his co-star. Veterans Reggie Jackson and Robert Covington were there. Terance Mann came through, along with 2021 draft picks Jason Preston and Brandon Boston Jr. Even pending free agent Isaiah Hartenstein was present.
It wasn’t just basketball. The Clippers watched last Thursday’s NBA Finals Game 6, in which the Golden State Warriors beat the Boston Celtics for the championship. And some members of the team got on the beach to run routes and catch the football.
The chemistry of the Clippers was a primary topic coming out of a failed run in the 2020 bubble. This gathering is another strong sign of how different things are now, with Leonard and George leading the way. The team got together at summer league last year in Las Vegas to watch the first couple of games. The turnout for informal workouts in the practice facility this offseason has been, according to a source, the highest in recent years. Those workouts have featured pending free agents Nicolas Batum (player option) and Amir Coffey (restricted).
The teams that play together tend to stay together. We’ll see how that changes over the rest of the summer.
I mentioned last week that the Clippers should be expected to use their pick. But whether they select at No. 43 remains to be seen; the Clippers have pulled off a draft-rights trade in every draft since 2015. It’s probably notable to share the teams that have been involved in those trades, because partners tend to be familiar with each other:
- New York Knicks (2021, Keon Johnson)
- Orlando Magic (2021, Preston)
- New Orleans Pelicans (2021, Boston; 2016, David Micheneau and Diamond Stone; 2015, Branden Dawson)
- Minnesota Timberwolves (2020, Daniel Oturu)
- Brooklyn Nets (2020, Jay Scrubb; 2019, Mfiondu Kabengele)
- Charlotte Hornets (2018, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander)
- Philadelphia 76ers (2017, Jawun Evans)
- Milwaukee Bucks (2017, Sindarius Thornwell)
Do not be surprised if the Clippers wind up adding another pick in this draft, I am told. I do not expect the Clippers to punt the draft altogether, and I do not expect them to move into the first round. But the Clippers are perhaps more interested in taking multiple swings than they were earlier in the month.
The Clippers expect their draft pick to spend a significant amount of time next season in the G League, possibly on a two-way contract. That will be a consideration for whomever they select, with expectations for that player to contribute to the standard roster as soon as 2023-24.
The Clippers may be more interested in adding a pick because they might have another two-way contract spot to fill. A source tells The Athletic that Scrubb, who is recovered from foot surgery, is not interested in returning on a two-way contract for a third season and wants to compete for a standard roster spot. But the Clippers prefer to have Scrubb, a shooting guard, back on the Coffey plan. Coffey signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Clippers in 2019 after going undrafted in 2019; Coffey returned to the Clippers on another two-way contract just before training camp last fall and wound up getting promoted to the standard roster in March.
Scrubb signed a two-year, two-way deal after the Clippers acquired his draft rights from Brooklyn in 2020, knowing he would miss most of his rookie season due to a pre-draft foot injury. The Clippers also have a surfeit of wings, making playing time scarce and developmental breakthroughs difficult. Scrubb is not a lock to play for the Clippers this summer in Las Vegas, similar to point guard Xavier Moon, the other incumbent two-way contract for the Clippers. That would open up more possibilities on draft day and for the training camp roster, which can expand to 20 during the offseason.
Teams work out several players in these cycles, but it’s not always an indication of who they will draft or who they can draft.
Last year provided a good example. The Clippers moved up to select Johnson, whom they thought was a top-15 pick. Johnson never worked out for the Clippers before the draft, though they kept tabs on him. The Clippers did have Preston and Boston in twice before the draft last year.
The Clippers have had Jalen Williams of Santa Clara in for workouts this year, which is a surprise since Williams could be a lottery pick. But there have been players whom agents have steered away from the Clippers because they’ve felt as if their clients won’t be in range. We’ll see tonight how relevant that might be when the Clippers finally make their moves.
(Photo: Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today)