The general assumption amongst Clippers fans is that the Lawrence Frank/Jerry West led front office can do no wrong. While the splashy moves have largely been praised and have worked out fairly well, many of the Clippers’ recent non-homerun moves have been quite disappointing – their depth moves have been poor. Simply put, the Clippers have practiced bad asset management, as 213Hoops’ very own Lucas Hann often says. I wrote previously about how Marcus Morris’ knee injury could have opened the door of opportunity for some bench players to progress their roles in the rotation. As Morris has returned to the lineup, those progressions have yet to be made.
On Sunday afternoon, the Clippers defeated the Chicago Bulls 130-127 in a shootout, as Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Lou Williams delivered down the stretch. With just nine players cracking the rotation, Ty Lue staggered players and experimented with different lineups. Noticeably absent was Reggie Jackson (first time DNP-CD), while both Mfiondu Kabengele and Patrick Patterson caught their usual DNP-CD’s, and Terrence Mann earned less than a minute of play. Lue explained his reasoning for not playing Jackson, mentioning that the ten-game evaluation of the Lou Williams/Reggie Jackson/Luke Kennard trio was enough to see that it was flawed. With the coaching staff’s willingness to evaluate and analyze on-court production through trial and error, other changes will likely occur throughout the season. However, the Clippers seem to have found a 9-man rotation that will function when it matters the most. The question is: is this enough?
The Clippers traded away the 56th pick of the 2019 NBA draft and a 2020 first-rounder in order to trade up and select Mfiondu Kabengele. After being mainly a G-League player for his rookie season, Fi still hasn’t produced much on the “A” team. Although he hasn’t been given much opportunity, he hasn’t resembled a rotation-level NBA player in his limited appearances on an NBA court. You can’t blame Fi for his draft spot, but you’ve got to seriously question the front office and their decision take such a big reach on Fi. The pick looks a lot worse now that the team declined to pick up Fi’s third year of his contract, and drafted a similar player, Daniel Oturu, just a year later.
Speaking of Daniel Oturu, he’s played a grand total of 23 minutes so far with the majority coming during the ends of already-decided games. As mentioned before, the pick of Oturu was redundant to that of Fi’s, but I guess it’s justifiable if the front office knew after just one season that Fi wasn’t going to be a Clipper long term. Yet, there were still a handful of quality rookie guards available to be drafted that would’ve spared the desire to re-sign Reggie Jackson.
Reggie Jackson was brought in last season as a mid-season free agent after being bought out by the Detroit Pistons. He was tasked with serving as a second-unit ball-handler alongside Lou Williams, but his fit was awkward by season’s end due to the duo’s poor defense. So, it was a surprise when he was re-signed to a minimum contract after the Clippers traded for Luke Kennard to essentially play Reggie’s role from the previous year. Between his bad defense, questionable decision-making, and lack of size in the three-guard lineups, Reggie was never put in a position to succeed early in the season.
A truncated offseason meant a speedy free agency, and in the opening hours of free agency the Clippers pounced on Patrick Patterson, agreeing to an above minimum deal. The signing was odd for many reasons. Firstly, it happened so fast it’s as if they were bidding against other teams for Patterson’s services. Maybe they were, but even then they could’ve easily moved on to better options for that price. Secondly, they overpaid for a player who is not currently in the rotation (more DNP-CD’s than games played). Lastly, there are still free agents on the market who are both more serviceable players for what the Clippers need and also more affordable options (Rondae Hollis-Jefferson being the most notable). The Clippers probably had an idea that they might lose JaMychal Green during free agency and panicked by overpaying for Patterson to secure a roster spot.
Specifically in a season like this where COVID-19 is beginning to have ramifications on player availability, the Clippers having just nine dependable players on a nightly basis could be problematic as the season goes on. All signs are pointing to the Clippers cutting ties with Fi by the trade deadline, which would open up another roster spot. If that happens you can all but guarantee the Clippers will be monitoring the buyout market when the time approaches in hopes to find a bit more roster depth. But, for right now, the Clippers’ poor depth moves this offseason have resulted in a shortened rotation and a lot of minutes for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.