The Los Angeles Clippers made many changes during the offseason in an attempt to right their wrongs from the 2019-2020 season. By now you know of the changes: Ty Lue was promoted from assistant to head coach, Luke Kennard was brought in via trade, and Serge Ibaka was signed to essentially replace Montrezl Harrell, who crossed the hallway to join the Los Angeles Lakers. A reshaping and reconstruction of the team was meant to deliver a new beginning, but a knee injury to Marcus Morris has put a hold on those new plans getting all the way off the ground. Here’s what we know about the injury, and what implications it could have on the Clippers as they begin their season.
There isn’t much known about Marcus Morris’ injury other than what the team has made public — knee soreness that has thus far kept him out of the three preseason games and the opening night game against the Lakers. There’s some room for optimism, as head coach Ty Lue has informed the media that Morris has been practicing with the team. Video has even surfaced of Morris going through an on-court shooting workout prior to the team’s preseason game vs. the Utah Jazz, suggesting that the knee injury won’t be something of major concern for the newly inked $64 million man. However, the pessimistic Clippers fan in me (all of us, probably) takes me back to the 2018-2019 season, when Luc Mbah a Moute had a season-long knee soreness that relegated him to only four total games. But as things currently stand, we don’t have a lot of details and we’ll have to wait and see what happens in the coming days.
It was well documented just how out of sync last season’s team was with one another. The Clippers were only able to put together a small percentage of games with a fully healthy roster, and an even smaller percentage of practices with all players available. A culmination of injuries (both pre-season and in-season), trade-deadline acquisitions, and free agent signings left the Clippers with poor continuity and little team chemistry on the court. While leading scorers Kawhi Leonard and Paul George dealt with managing injuries throughout that season, their roles on the court were established from the moment they became Clippers. The same cannot be said for Morris, whose comfortability and fit was never fully executed — as shown by his shooting splits compared to his New York tenure. A condensed 2020-style offseason provided him and the rest of the guys an opportunity to step into training camp having healthy bodies, with the focus being on ironing out the wrinkles and establishing an understanding of their roles under a new coaching staff. So, having important players miss the first bits of the season isn’t exactly playing into the team’s new gameplan, but it’s the hand they’ve been dealt, and they’ll have to adjust to these kinds of situations better than they did last season.
That being said, the Clippers may be able to use Morris’ setback to their advantage early in this season. “What’s good about Marcus Morris missing time?,” you may ask. The question might sound silly, but his absence could serve as an experimental period for this new squad by evaluating players, schemes, and rotations through trial and error. Here’s how:
- Young players are going to have an opportunity to prove their value. It would be false to claim that the Clippers’ title hopes depend on the development of two sophomore bench players taking a step forward. However, the front office and coaching staff spent time this offseason addressing the importance of player development, an area that they wanted to make improvements in. With Morris out, more minutes are available for players to play their way into rotations and hopefully prove to be valuable pieces going forward. Terance Mann will look to build off of a good preseason in which he asserted himself into the competition of battling Reggie Jackson for rotation minutes alongside Lou Williams and Luke Kennard, while Mfiondu Kabengele has a chance at competing with Patrick Patterson for the third big-man spot. Neither Mann nor Kabengele saw the court much in Tuesday’s win, but Patterson and Jackson weren’t particularly good in their minutes. This will be something to keep an eye on if the injury to Marcus Morris lingers.
- Veteran’s will ramp up quicker. Additional minutes could be beneficial for the veteran role players as well. Veteran forward Nic Batum started for the injured Morris in Tuesday’s win and played 28 minutes. Those minutes will surely be reduced once Morris returns, but it’s good for Batum to get these early season reps and opportunities being that he didn’t see the court much last season. Batum had a solid performance based on what we expect from him and it’ll be interesting to see if this temporary uptick in minutes will be beneficial in the long run.
- Ty Lue and the new coaching staff will be creative with lineups. Lue already shook things up a bit during the preseason by announcing that newly signed Serge Ibaka would be starting at center over long-time starter Ivica Zubac, but committed to being experimental throughout the course of the season. Perhaps one of Lue’s greatest traits as head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers was his ability to adjust his rotations based on performance and matchups, and through one regular season game, we’ve already seen this. Against the Lakers, Zubac played 27 minutes to Ibaka’s 21. Ty Lue willingly left Zubac in the game for long spurts because of his impact and activity around the rim, and he finished tied for a team high plus-17. Perhaps more importantly, Reggie Jackson entered the game to begin the second quarter, had a negative impact on the flow of the offensive in just three minutes of play, and then was relegated to the bench for the remainder of the game. It was quite pleasant to see a coach managing rotations based on game-flow, and we should be able to count on seeing more of it.
Through three preseason games and one regular season game, it seems as though the team chemistry is in a good place. Guys are saying all the right things and seem noticeably happier than they did last season. Marcus Morris’ injury is a legit bummer for this team, and it will be worth monitoring if this iteration of the Clippers can maintain cohesion and chemistry as they deal with these very situations that plagued them last season. However, while there’s some reason for negativity, the ability to give other players opportunities early in the season and experiment with some outside-the-box lineups could be a boon in the long-term.