Los Angeles Clippers 2021-22 Season Preview

Los Angeles Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers open their season Thursday night against a Pacific Division rival, the Golden State Warriors. The 2021-22 season will be an entertaining, but unpredictable one for the WCF runner-ups. 

Fans anticipate a great season, even without five-time All-Star, Kawhi Leonard. Leonard is currently recovering from surgery on a partially torn ACL suffered from a collision with Joe Ingles. Regardless of his injury, fans are excited about the upcoming season and are embracing an underdog mentality. The vibe of this squad is comparable to the All-Star-less 2018-19 team. One that took two games in the first round against the defending champion Golden State Warriors.

Los Angeles Clippers 2021-22 Season Preview

The Clippers’ expectations range from top-four seed, play-in team, to even missing the playoffs. One could argue that the team faces no pressure going into the season. This is not the case. The main goal for the Clippers should be to achieve a legitimate playoff seed, not just contention. 

When Will Kawhi Leonard Return?

“I wanted to play”, Leonard stated in his media day availability.

This past summer, Leonard signed a four-year, $176M contract to remain with the team. The two-time Finals MVP signed a four-year extension in lieu of a 1+1 contract that would have maximized his earnings long-term due to his desire to play this season. Leonard also wanted to avoid speculation from the media that he would leave the team.

Free agents Nicolas Batum and Serge Ibaka both returned on 1-year deals, an indication of optimism that Leonard’s return this season is inevitable.

For a guy who made the phrase “load management” commonplace in the NBA, rushing back to play does not make sense for the long term. Leonard, who averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.2 assists a game last season, stated that he and the medical team are attacking rehab day by day. Farbod Esnaashari of Sports Illustrated reported that Leonard is ahead of schedule in his rehab process. This is positive news for the team and fans that he will play this season. 

The team will need to tread water without him. However, one could argue that this roster is better than last season’s. That along with the coaching staff give them a chance to exceed expectations and push for a deep playoff run.

Roster and Coaching

Last postseason, the Clippers defeated the Utah Jazz to advance to their first-ever Western Conference Finals. They were also two wins away from the first-ever NBA Finals in the franchise’s tumultuous history. The team accumulated a 4-4 record in the eight postseason games without Leonard. Impressive considering the void left by the two-time NBA champion. By retaining key free agents Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka, and Reggie Jackson in the summer, the team is well equipped to do damage in the 2021-22 season. 

The front office was not done there. They made moves to acquire playmakers Eric Bledsoe, Justise Winslow, and Isaiah Hartenstein. These offseason acquisitions aim to carry some of the offensive load to offset Kawhi Leonard’s absence.

Welcome, Eric Bledsoe 

Perhaps the most shocking move of the Clippers’ offseason was when the club dealt Rajon Rondo, Daniel Oturu, and fan-favorite Patrick Beverley to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe had an up-and-down year for the New Orleans Pelicans last season. The 11-year vet averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists in just under 30 minutes per game. While his numbers look solid, the team’s lack of spacing restricted the success of their overall performance. The poor shooting from Bledsoe, Steven Adams, and Zion Williamson contracted Pelicans’ star Brandon Ingram‘s room to operate.

Spacing and decision-making will be the key concerns for Bledsoe’s fit with the Clippers. But in the preseason appearances, he has made, Bledsoe has shown promise with his determined downhill drives and pick-and-roll chemistry with Ivica Zubac.

Bledsoe is also a former First Team All-Defensive player, so picking up on Patrick Beverley’s defensive slack won’t be too tough of a task in that regard. Bledsoe appears motivated to bounce back from his inconsistent season with New Orleans. With shooters surrounding him and one of the best head coaches in the league, expect Bledsoe to play a major role in the success of the Clippers.

Tyronn Lue

Tyronn Lue enters his second season as the Clippers Head Coach with the same aspiration of pushing for the franchise’s first NBA title. This season’s goal is no different from the last, however, the path has changed. Lue must manage minutes for older vets, find the proper rotations, maintain health and be competitive enough to make the playoffs. All while preparing for Leonard’s return to the team. Of course, this is easier said than done, but the Clippers believe in Ty and the fans should as well. 

After falling down 0-2 to the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, Lue made key adjustments to flip the series. These adjustments included benching Patrick Beverley and electing to go small with a center-less starting/closing lineup. Lue is described as a coach who can “hit you without leaving a bruise”. This empathy is essential for the way he seamlessly adds and removes players from the rotation. Lue’s ability to gain a level of trust and understanding to go along with his tantalizing tactics allows him to be flexible with rotations when the time is needed.

Staff Changes

The coaching staff did have significant departures starting with Kenny Atkinson, who was instrumental in the development of Terance Mann. The team also lost assistant coach Chauncey Billups, who served as a leader for Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Even without these key pieces, the addition of Brian Shaw brings championship pedigree and head coaching experience to an already superb staff. Clippers also have Associate Head Coach, Dan Craig, who will be essential in managing the team’s defense and other schemes.

If the Clippers are able to come together and play as they did in last season’s playoffs and achieve a top-five seed, then Ty Lue will be in serious consideration for Coach of the Year.

Farewell to a Fan Favorite

Unfortunately, the addition of the Los Angeles Clippers’ new floor general came at a cost. The team lost an integral part of their culture as a result of Beverley’s departure. When the Clippers traded Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets, three players emerged as the pillars for the team’s culture revamp: Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, and Patrick Beverley. Perhaps the most important contributor to the organization’s culture change was the 6”1’ point guard from Chicago.

“I am not Chris Paul. But Chris Paul is not me,” Beverley let the media know in his introductory press conference.

Any team would love to have Beverley on their roster for his tenacity, defense, and 3-point shooting. Over the years, Beverley struggled with knee injuries that caused him to miss many games in his Clippers tenure. Those injuries played a large role in why the former Arkansas Razorback was traded. That and Bledsoe’s ability to get downhill and play make are likely the culprits for Beverley’s departure. 

Without Beverley, the Clippers will need to replace the void their bulldog leader left. Vets need to step up as vocal leaders to motivate and young players will need to bring constant energy. It will be interesting to see how the team adjusts to his absence. It goes without saying that each and every member of the organization will miss Patrick Beverley.

Los Angeles Clippers Prediction

This upcoming season has the potential to be special if the Clippers get the right breaks. The return of Kawhi Leonard changes the dynamic of the roster and raises the team’s ceiling. However, major questions will arise as the season progresses. Is there enough playmaking? Can they stay healthy? Will Terance Mann take the next step? All of these will play a factor in how successful the team will be.

Final record prediction: 49-33 (5th seed in the west)

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