Technically, the Los Angeles Clippers made progress from last season.
After losing two play-in games because (begin rolling eyes) Kawhi Leonard missed both of them and Paul George missed the second, taking one game off the Phoenix Suns in the first round is very-specifically-officially-technically… progress.
But I think we’re confusing progress with change, because this Clippers team—about to enter year five of the Leonard-George experiment—has merely come up with new and exciting ways to fail, rather than progressing the roster toward, you know, contending.
But despite a very aggressive trade deadline, a wide range of results from Russell Westbrook and a Western Conference that was begging someone to take control of it, the Clippers were once again sunk by injuries to their two stars, and fans were left wondering what they did to the universe to deserve this.
Another disappointing Clippers season leaves the roster in disarray
Most of the time, a team with an aging core with one-and-a-half knees between them that can’t get out of the first round does one thing and one thing only: blow it up. But the Clippers simply cannot be bad. With a new stadium opening soon, owner Steve Balmer is likely out of patience for rebuilding. This team needs to sell tickets, not to mention that they hold zero first round picks until 2027.
Unless Bones Hyland and Terance Mann are going to take a leap so big that you start to question if they’re medicinally enhanced, there are no young players waiting in the wings to save the Clippers from themselves. If tanking isn’t an option, the only real plan is an on-the-fly rebuild, or a “retooling” of what is already there. So let’s talk through the roster, deciding who is untouchable and whose shoes should never touch the floor in a Clippers jersey ever again.
Untouchable 1: Ivica Zubac
There are not a lot of things you can hang your hat on with this Clippers team, but color Zubac a seven-foot hat-rack. His physicality and size have made him a staple of Clipper playoff runs since before the Leonard-George train rolled into town. It’s remarkable to think that Zubac is only 26, since he played three solid years for the Lakers prior to walking across the locker room to the Clips.
In many ways, Zubac has been everything the Clippers want so dearly to get their talent roster out of the mud. He plays with a relentless motor, brings some violence to the offensive and defensive glass, and is a key rim-protector and lob threat. He’s the perfect gadget big, and every contender would love to have him.
But Zubac can’t do it all by himself. He is the foundation of a team with certainty—that space between confidence and arrogance—but is surrounded by stationary or simply nonexistent help. Nicholas Batum and Eric Gordon are great shooters, but they play with no horsepower. Westbrook showed up to provide that electricity, but tends to blindly shovel coal into the engine, not worrying about the fact that he has actually set the train car on fire.
But Zubac mixes control with energy, and has cemented himself as one of the premier walking double-double’s in the league. He’ll never be a star, but championships are not won by the captains of the ship. They are won by the glue that holds the boat together. Zubac is the perfect player for a playoff team, which—barring a disaster—the Clippers should be. Big changes are in order. He is not one of them.