Clippers should rethink their approach in this key area

If the Clippers are to continue competing for a championship, they may want to re-evaluate their tactics in one specific area.
Amir Coffey, Ivica Zubac, Norman Powell, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, LA Clippers
Amir Coffey, Ivica Zubac, Norman Powell, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, LA Clippers / Jonathan Bachman/GettyImages

Despite their playoff shortcomings, the LA Clippers are still unquestionably one of the teams best-equipped to win a championship in the Western Conference. With Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and James Harden in their starting lineup, the Clips have as much or more high-end talent than just about any other team in the association.

Of course, the main deterrent to LA realizing their potential over the last five years has been injuries. Leonard and George have both missed significant chunks of the regular season and playoffs, leading to the Clippers either missing out on the playoffs or having a talent-depleted roster to work with once everything is on the line in the postseason.

Having those big-name stars does give you the best chance to reach the NBA mountaintop, at least in theory. Kawhi's 2019 playoff run was one of the best we have ever seen, and it is that type of performance that leaves Clippers fans with optimism even today. At the end of the day, star players are what win you championships.

It can be argued that no team since the 2014 Spurs have won a title without having at least a top-five player in the league on their roster. Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic could all reasonably be put in that category at the time they won their teams a championship in the last decade. But the flip side of that dynamic is having to shell out the money to keep those stars in town.

Cutting costs could be an avenue that helps the Clippers

The Clippers can relate to that struggle at the moment. In the 2023-24 season, they had the second-highest payroll of any team in the association, behind only the Golden State Warriors. On one hand, you can say it was an effective strategy, as LA was at or near the top of the stacked Western Conference all season, finishing in the top four and earning home court advantage for the playoffs.

But on the other hand, not only does having a high payroll now lead to more restrictions with the NBA's new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but it is being proven that it is far from a foolproof strategy to winning on the biggest stage. Out of all the teams in the top 10 for salary in 2023-24, eight of them missed the playoffs or were eliminated in the first round. Only the Celtics made it past round one.

We are seeing that simply paying a bunch of superstar-level players may not be a viable strategy in the NBA moving forward. At the very least, if you are going to run up a high payroll, you should do it while prioritizing versatility and do it in a way where all your rotation players fit together in a meaningful way. Boston is a great example of this.

If the Clippers are open to making changes this summer, this is something they should be keeping in mind. Leonard, George, Harden and their other highest-paid players all bring valuable contributions to the table, but perhaps success could still be achieved while swapping out one or more of the big names for lower-cost rotation players.

As the NBA landscape changes, Steve Ballmer and the Clippers' front office will need to remain open-minded and be willing to potentially step away from the traditional approach in ways like this.