Clippers hope to remain competitive with roster in wake of losing Paul George

Los Angeles, CA - January 11: Clippers forward Nicolas Batum, center, gets fingers in the face.

On July 24, 2019, the Clippers held a news conference with big fanfare to announce the arrival of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, two of the best two-way players in the NBA, who had joined forces.

The Clippers were considered an elite team at that time, a team with championship-level potential with the pairing of Leonard and George.

On June 30, 2024, the Clippers announced they and George couldn’t come to an agreement on a contract extension and that they were going their separate ways, ending a partnership that didn’t lead to a title.

The Clippers are not considered a championship-level team now with their current roster, the departure of George to the Philadelphia 76ers for a four-year, $212-million deal a big loss to overcome in the uber-competitive Western Conference.

Read more: Paul George leaves the Clippers and joins the 76ers, James Harden is back in

“We traded a lot to pair Paul and Kawhi, and in exchange, we had five seasons of contention,” Clippers president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said in a statement Sunday evening. “Even though we fell short of our ultimate objective, we appreciate the chances we had with Paul.”

The health of Leonard will be paramount for the Clippers going forward. He signed a three-year extension for $152 million during the past season, signifying his commitment to the Clippers and them to him.

Though he played 68 games during the 2023-24 season, the most since playing 72 games during the 2015-16 season in San Antonio, Leonard missed the final eight regular-season games and four of the six first-round playoff games against the Mavericks because of inflammation in his right knee.

When Leonard played, he was a force. He averaged 23.7 points per game, 6.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He shot a career-best 52.5% from the field and 41.7% from three-point range.

Leonard will be aided in this endeavor by James Harden, who signed a two-year extension for $70 million.

And the two of them will play for Clippers coach Tyronn Lue, who is considered one of the best in the NBA at his job.

Philadelphia 76ers center Mo Bamba (5) drives on Phoenix Suns forward Drew Eubanks.

The Clippers still have solid role players in center Ivica Zubac and guards Terance Mann, Norman Powell and Russell Westbrook, who reportedly is on the trading block.

The Clippers also made a nice recovery from losing George by agreeing to deals Monday with Nicolas Batum and Mo Bamba, said people with knowledge of the agreements not authorized to speak publicly. Batum agreed to a two-year, $9.6-million deal and Bamba agreed to a one-year contract at the veteran's minimum.

They got younger and more athletic by agreeing to deals with forward Derrick Jones Jr., 27, and guard Kevin Porter Jr., 24.

They drafted 6-6 guard Cam Christie, 18, in the second round and got younger in the process.

The Clippers still have the talents of wing Amir Coffey, guard Bones Hyland and forward Kobe Brown.

After using most of the $12.9 million mid-level exception on Jones’ three-year deal for $30 million, the Clippers had about $3 million left to spend from that exception — and that will go to Bamba.

Read more: Clippers select Minnesota guard Cam Christie with the No. 46 pick of NBA draft

They used the biannual exception to sign Batum to his two-year deal.

With 15 players now under contract, the Clippers have no open roster spots. Bamba fulfills their need for a center after Mason Plumlee and Daniel Theis became free agents. They have two two-way players on the roster in guards Jordan Miller and Xavier Moon.

“We will miss Paul,” Frank said in his statement. “At the same time, we’re excited by the opportunities we’ve now been afforded, including greater flexibility under the new CBA [collective bargaining agreement]. Kawhi is an all-NBA player and we believe T Lue is the best coach in the league.

"We will field a highly competitive team this season, and moving forward, use our organizational advantages to bring top talent to Intuit Dome.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.