Our exit interview series on the 2024 Clippers continues with star Paul George, whose future with the Clippers is up in the air.

Basic Information

Height: 6’8

Weight: 220 pounds

Position: Shooting Guard/Small Forward

Age: 34

Years in NBA: 14

Regular Season Stats: 22.6 points, 3.5 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and 2.1 turnovers in 33.8 minutes per game across 74 games played (all starts) on 47.1/41.3/90.7 (7.9 3PT attempts and 3.9 FTA attempts) shooting splits (61.3 True Shooting)

Postseason Stats: 19.5 points, 4.8 assists, 6.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 2.3 turnovers in 37.0 minutes per game across 6 games (all starts) on 41.1/36.7/84 (8.2 3PT attempts and 4.2 FT attempts) shooting splits (55.2 True Shooting)

Expectations

After a disastrous 2023 Clippers season, the core Clippers promised that 2024 would be different. They claimed the mindset would be to take the regular season seriously. And, for Paul George specifically, that he would be “back on his bully shit”.

Some Clippers fans might have hoped for a much-improved PG, but with a four-year sample size, most fans had fairly set expectations. Paul George was expected to score in the low-mid 20s, bring in a handful of rebounds and assists, play solid defense, and be a good second banana to Kawhi Leonard. For overall impact, All-Star but not quite All-NBA level was a reasonable expectation.

Reality

Statistically, taking his season as a whole, Paul George squarely met his expectations. His per-game scoring dipped from previous seasons, but not by a lot, and his efficiency went up due to playing with Harden. George’s assists fell for similar reasons, but so did his turnovers. Really, the main unaccounted-for stat that dropped for PG was rebounding, which has fallen now in four consecutive seasons (and is an issue with playing him at the three and Kawhi at the four). Advanced numbers paint a similar picture, with PG placing as an All-Star, not All-NBA caliber player – which is exactly the recognition he actually received. George also played in 74 games, by far his most as a Clipper.

Breaking PG’s season down more granularly reveals the inconsistencies he has displayed throughout his career. PG was awesome to start the year, with an insane October, before his November tailed off as the Clippers bought in Harden and struggled with their new rotations. George played better in December as the Clippers got going, and then surged in early-mid January when they were in the middle of their 26-5 stretch. George started slumping towards the end of January and then logged in awful February, one of his worst months as a Clipper, coinciding directly with the Clippers’ slip in overall play. He then recovered and was terrific down the stretch to help the Clippers hold onto 4th in the West.

The playoffs were a different matter. George had his lowest-scoring playoffs in over a decade, averaging just 19.5 points per game, with his last postseason averages of less than 20.0 points coming when he was a rising star in 2013. He was decent but not great in Games 1 and 2, fantastic in Game 4, blah in Game 6, and absolutely invisible in Games 3 and 5. The only game where PG cracked 20 shots was Game 1, where he had exactly 20. He otherwise looked passive and apathetic for much of the series. The Clippers were never making a deep run without Kawhi Leonard, but George’s lack of aggression and overall play were just not the caliber the Clippers needed.

It all adds up to another underwhelming season for George, who is now 34 years old and well past his prime. He’s not going to get any better and will likely continue slipping every year moving forward. The defense is fading, and so is his ability to get to and finish at the rim. Still, the three-point shooting remains an incredible weapon, and Paul George, when his shot is cooking, remains one of the hardest players in the NBA to stop.

Future with Clippers

This is where things get interesting. Paul George, of course, has a $48.8M player option for next season that he is expected to decline. The Clippers and PG were expected to come to terms on an extension, but it never happened. There have been reports that Paul George wants a full max, likely four years, but at least three. The Clippers, clearly, are not willing to pay him that. And thus, we have an old-school Western standoff.

The Clippers, from a pure basketball team-building perspective, have no way to replace Paul George if he declines his player option and walks to another team in free agency. Without re-signing James Harden, that would put the Clippers at around $126M in salary for 2025 with quite a few roster spots to fill. If PG walks and Harden comes back at around $35M-$40M, the Clippers would likely finish above the luxury tax at $171M and quite possibly over the first apron at $178M – but below the second apron at $189M. That would open up the mini MLE (or at least part of it) for the Clippers, enable them to aggregate salaries in trades, and provide other benefits. None of those, however, would remotely approach the star-level impact PG still offers.

The Clippers also don’t want to take a step back with Kawhi in his age 33 season and with Harden (turning 35 in August) seemingly a near certainty to return. Those guys have limited years left to be star-level players. The Clippers, with all their picks out the door for the next five years, also can’t truly enter a rebuild. Thus, the Clippers, for a variety of reasons, seemingly have to bring back PG. George himself has stated many times he wants to stay with the Clippers and remain in Los Angeles, where his parents can sit courtside, and he can be near friends and family.

Will George and the Clippers be able to find a middle ground on a deal? My gut says yes. While Philly or other teams might offer a full max, George is comfortable in Los Angeles, has already made an incredible amount of money, and will still receive a lucrative deal from the team. Ultimately, I think he returns on a deal similar if not identical to the three year, $153M deal that the Clippers gave Kawhi Leonard. If not, well, we will write the post-mortem at that time.

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