If the Clippers are looking for a plan to turn a drain-filled season into a final, they don’t have to look far. Last season, the Boston Celtics were 25-24 on Jan. 25. This season, the Clippers have the exact same 25-24 record going into play Tuesday night against the Lakers.
The similarities between these two teams run deep. Two stars at the top of a deep list. The problem for the Clippers is that the quality of that depth hasn’t proven to be as high as most expected. The fall between Paul George, as their second-best player, and who you think is their third-best player, say Ivica Zubac, for example, qualifies as a bona fide gulf.
Although the Celtics had already started to take off last season before trading Derrick White, his addition was crucial to their Finals run. There were times in the postseason when White was Boston’s most impactful player during periods.
The Clippers appear to be looking for a similar upgrade this year, with a starting point guard and backup center their priority, according to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, who floated four names as possible Clippers targets: point guards Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry. and Fred VanVleet, and old friend Isaiah Hartenstein, who is now with the Knicks.
Marc Stein reported the Clippers’ interest in Conley a week ago, and indeed, Conley would make a lot of sense next to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers need a strong offensive organizer who can also operate off the ball. Neither Reggie Jackson nor John Wall have been up to that task this season. Conley still fits the bill, and remains a viable 3-point threat to make room for the two Los Angeles stars.
That said, it’s VanVleet who would really move the needle. He’s having a bad season of 3, but that can change in an instant. He is an elite rush defender who hits above his weight class. The guy is a stud, flat out, and the best part is that the Raptors are potentially in a position where they would be motivated to sell. VanVleet is a free agent this summer. He wants and deserves a lot of money. If the Raptors aren’t going to commit long-term, moving FVV now would make a nice return.
The Clippers could offer their 2028 first-round pick, which could be quite valuable if this Kawhi-PG era runs its course, plus a good young player, potentially a Terrence Mann or Luke Kennard. They also have plenty of salary fillers to make the deal work on paper, namely Wall, Robert Covington, Marcus Morris, or Jackson.
As for the search for a backup center, O’Connor also noted that the Clippers have an interest in Minnesota’s Naz Reid. For me, this is a distant second on the priority list after a point guard. The Clippers will almost certainly play little in their postseason minutes away from Zubac anyway.
Bigger never hurts and you never know when you’ll need to stay big for a matchup or have a cushion for foul issues, but if we’re talking about moving the championship needle, we’re talking about VanVleet, or to a lesser extent, in my opinion. Conley, or in a way Lowry to a lesser extent.