The Clippers just announced that newly acquired guard Norman Powell has a fractured foot, or a fractured medial sesamoid bone in his left foot, to be precise. Per the Clippers, the treatment is non-surgical at this time, and Powell will be out indefinitely. From our own Dr. Shap, he will probably be in a cast at least a month, and then in some kind of walking boot after that. In short, the rest of his 2022 NBA season is in jeopardy.
For the Clippers, this is devastating. Powell was just acquired to serve as the third scorer behind Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for years to come, but also as a guy who could provide some juice this year to help the Clippers out with their stars gone. In his first three games as a Clipper, Powell averaged 21 points and 4 assists in 26.7 minutes and scored with great efficiency. They need his scoring and creation to stay afloat, as Paul George has another MRI on his shoulder on February 24 (and would need a couple weeks to return at least even if the news is positive) while Leonard’s return is still totally indefinite.
Powell’s injury might (to me, should) change the whole dynamic of the rest of the season. Even if he, George, and Leonard are all able to return this season (seemingly unlikely), they will have a limited runway both individually and together to get on track with each other and the rest of their teammates. It’s almost impossible to imagine a universe where the three of them come back, play enough to get the Clippers into the playoffs proper, and have enough chemistry to go on a run.
Shutting everything down for those guys returning this season (at least in a serious capacity), a view already espoused by some fans, is thus more attractive. The Clippers’ investment in Leonard and George is obvious, but Powell has 4 years and $74M left on his contract as well, and the Clippers’ need all of them to be healthy next season for a proper run at a championship. Risking any sort of further damage or longer-term injury on an extreme long-shot this season does not seem like a wise move.
The Clippers are 28-30, and still sit firmly in the 8th seed in the Western Conference. However, both the Kings and Pelicans desperately want to make the play-in, and while the Lakers are a laughable mess, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are still healthy – for now. There’s no guarantee that the Clippers can remain in the play-in, and playing other key pieces (especially veterans) big minutes to do so could only risk further injuries. If the Clippers do decide to semi-punt on this season, expect reduced minutes for Nic Batum, Marcus Morris, and Reggie Jackson going forward.
As for the rest of the roster, Terance Mann, Amir Coffey, and Luke Kennard’s minutes will all probably increase. With even less ballhandling, the Clippers waiving Semi Ojeleye and signing a veteran backup point guard (to reduce minutes load if nothing else) seems more likely. Even if the Clippers aren’t going all-in for a playoff run, they do seem to need to balance their roster a bit.
For Norman Powell himself, hopefully his foot heals swiftly and completely, and a regular season return is possible, even if not advisable. Get well, Norm!