If the Clippers are looking for a plan to turn a draining circle season into a Finals run, they don’t have to look far. Last season, the Boston Celtics were 25-24 on January 25th. This season, the Clippers have the same record at 25-24 going into Tuesday night’s game 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 as high as most expected. The dropoff between a Paul George, as their second-best player, and whoever you think their third-best player is — say Ivica Zubac, for example — qualifies as a good chasm.
Although the Celtics had already started to take off last season before trading for Derrick White, his addition was still crucial to their Finals run. There were times in the postseason when White was Boston’s most impactful player down the stretch.
The Clippers appear to be looking for a similar upgrade this year, with a starting point guard and backup center as their priority, according to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, who floated four names as potential 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 Conley would actually make a lot of sense next to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers need a solid offensive organizer who can also operate off the ball. Neither Reggie Jackson nor John Wall has accomplished that task this season. Conley still fits the bill, and he remains a viable 3-point threat to make room for LA’s two stars.
That said, it’s VanVleet who would really move the needle. He is having a low season of 3, but that can change in an instant. He is an elite ball pressure defender who punches 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, big money. If the Raptors aren’t going to make a long-term commitment, moving FVV now would yield a good return.
The Clippers could offer their 2028 first-round pick, which could be quite valuable when and if this Kawhi-PG era pans out, plus a good young player, potentially a Terrence Mann or Luke Kennard. They also have enough salary fillers to make the deal work on paper, namely Wall, Robert Covington, Marcus Morris or Jackson.
As for the pursuit of the backup center, O’Connor also noted that the Clippers have interest in Minnesota’s Naz Reid. To me, this is a distant second on the priority list for a point guard. The Clippers are almost certainly going to play little in their non-Zubac minutes in the postseason anyway.
More size never hurts, and you never know when you need to stay big for a game or have a cushion for foul trouble, but if we’re talking about moving the championship needle, in my mind, we’re talking about VanVleet, or to a lesser extent Conley , or in one road to a lesser extent Lowry.