What are the Clippers' biggest priorities ahead of the NBA trade deadline? (2023)

An LA Clippers season that started with internal and external championship expectations has been stuck in neutral. While the Clippers enter this week having won back-to-back games for the first time this month, the Clippers are 8-10 and struggling to stay on the floor since head coach Tyronn Lue announced he would use his full roster against the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 21.


Evaluating the roster is difficult because of the frequent unavailability of stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. It has made Lue’s quest to find sensible rotations frustrating, while the front office, led by president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank, has seen their vision for this roster obscured.

“Our dialogue has been the same,” Lue said last week about his communication with the front office as the Clippers navigate their turbulent journey toward consistency. “Just getting healthy and staying healthy. We really haven’t had a chance to see what this team can do. We haven’t seen the full potential. … We haven’t given up on this team, what we have right now. It’s just that we’ve been hurt, been in and out of the lineups. And now we just got to hold it down until everyone gets whole.”

The problem is —this team has been flawed even at full strength. Team sources, who were granted anonymity so they could speak freely, told The Athletic that the front office would prefer not to make a move, both because of what they see as a lack of enticing incoming options as well as their desire to see this wing-heavy roster thrive somehow.

Some players can be described as players Lue prefers, while others are held in higher regard by the front office. That has become somewhat clearer over the course of the roster evaluation in January. Here are the conclusions that can be drawn at each position, and how they could influence how the team moves ahead of the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

Star wing

Kawhi Leonard

Leonard has a trade kicker, but the Clippers are not considering trading him anyway, a team source told The Athletic. Leonard has avoided injury since returning from a sprained ankle. Leonard’s ankle injury came three games after a return from his right knee flaring up in late October. The question is if Leonard will play on zero days rest this season. It seemed like it was a consideration two weeks ago in Minnesota but he was listed as questionable and did not play then. He was ruled out entirely in Utah, snapping a season-long five-game playing streak.


Paul George

The Clippers surprised the NBA when they traded face-of-the-franchise Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons five Januarys ago. That was a move made to keep the powder dry for an event like the 2019 offseason, when Leonard and George arrived. Griffin was traded because that version of the Clippers had run its course. That’s not true yet for the Clippers now, but George’s durability issues have hamstrung the Clippers. George missed a total of 16 games with the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder in the four seasons he played before joining the Clippers. George has missed an average of 27.3 games per season with the Clippers, a number that will rise when he adds to the 16 games he has already missed this season.

Sources told The Athletic that the front office will continue to empower the medical staff to protect players from themselves. This Clippers season could get worse if Leonard or George aggravate the physical conditions they are trying to manage as it also threatens their postseason availability.

Point guard

Terance Mann

Mann is the starter now. The front office is not likely to part with him, and there is belief that Mann could be the team’s starting point guard beyond this season, a team source told The Athletic. But Mann is a player that Lue ideally sees as a small forward, and who was out of Lue’s first half rotation as recently as New Year’s Eve at Indiana. Lue prefers to keep a traditional point guard in the rotation. Which leads to…

John Wall

The front office’s expectations for Wall this season were for him to be brought along slowly and be at his best for the postseason. Lue fostered a training camp battle between Wall and Reggie Jackson, ultimately deciding Jackson would be a better fit as a starter alongside George and Leonard while Wall made an impact with his ability to push the pace and find shooters. But Wall has struggled with finishing, live-ball turnovers and shaky shooting offensively, while Lue’s worst habit has been keeping Wall on the floor with two other guards who don’t defend well. Wall did not play on zero days rest, but now is likely out for the rest of the month due to an abdominal injury. The Athletic’s Shams Charania says that Wall is on the table in trade discussions. Now that Mann is the starter, Wall could be expendable.


Reggie Jackson

Two years ago, Jackson started a surplus of games because of Patrick Beverley’s injuries. Jackson took over the starting point guard spot for good in Game 3 of the 2021 Western Conference quarterfinals against the Dallas Mavericks. Jackson led the Clippers in total minutes last season (2,337), starting every game he played in.

But Jackson is a 2023 free agent and has a 15 percent trade kicker. He has also struggled this season, especially since playing 24 second-half minutes following a brutal fall at Portland in late November. Since then, he is shooting 38.6 percent from the field. Lue has long seen Jackson as more of a combo guard than a true point guard, which is one reason why Eric Bledsoe started so many games with Jackson last season. When Lue made the decision to start Mann this month, Jackson fell out of the rotation entirely until Wall’s injury. Lue prefers to play a traditional point guard. Mann is starting, and Jason Preston is the developmental third-stringer.

It is worth noting that LA’s interest in Jazz point guard Mike Conley would give the Clippers a better shooter than Wall and a better distributor than Jackson and Conley goes back with Clippers consultant Jerry West from their days with the Memphis Grizzlies. But Conley is a smaller point guard, makes $22.7 million this season, and, at 35 years old, would be the oldest player on what is already the oldest NBA team. The Clippers also know firsthand how Conley’s durability concerns can affect a team; Conley missed all but the deciding game of the 2021 Western Conference semifinals between the Utah Jazz and Clippers because of a hamstring injury.

Other wings

Norman Powell

Powell is Lue’s preferred second-unit shooting guard, and he is good at what he does well: scoring at will and mixing in self-created shots with catch-and-shoot 3s. However, he has had too many defensive lapses this season, hasn’t contributed enough on the glass and has the worst assist-turnover ratio (0.98) of any non-center on the roster. Powell has a secured spot in Lue’s rotation as the sixth man, and the front office just acquired him last year. He is doubtful to be moved.

What are the Clippers' biggest priorities ahead of the NBA trade deadline? (1)

Norman Powell (Chris Nicoll / USA TODAY Sports)

Luke Kennard

Kennard has missed 20 games because of injury, including a recurring calf strain. He is an exceptional shooter who shows good awareness and effort defensively and on the glass. But in the wrong lineups, Kennard is targeted relentlessly, especially late in games. While the front office considers Kennard a capable ballhandler, Lue has previously voiced his frustration with Kennard’s frequent bouts of passive offensive basketball, whether it is Kennard deferring shots or the all-too-rare sightings of Kennard drives. he is a valuable player the team should keep, and Lue constantly credits Kennard’s exceptional off-ball movement affecting the offense in a positive way even when he doesn’t touch the ball.

But Lue’s insistence to have a point guard in the second unit could create a false choice between Powell and Kennard to avoid terrible three-guard lineups. The front office should know that their best chance to get a decent rotation player back at any position likely requires the involvement of Kennard in any trade, and his durability concerns make that consolidation transaction more likely than perhaps when the season started. For now, Kennard’s pending return from his calf injury is one of the final pieces of LA’s latest evaluation puzzle with both stars back and Mann starting.


Amir Coffey

Coffey is a nice depth piece who the front office believes in as an NBA rotation player, but his value has not gone up this year.

Brandon Boston Jr.

Boston is the team’s developmental wing and this season has played more in the G League with fellow 2021 second-round pick Preston than in the NBA.

Power forward

Marcus Morris Sr.

This is the position where something may have to give. The Clippers have three players around 6-foot-8, over 30 years old, and past their athletic primes. Morris has been the starter since the second half of the 2020-21 season, so Lue’s preference for Morris is clear. When Leonard and/or George are out, Morris moves up the offensive food chain, but that has left Morris (43.7 percent from the field) overwhelmed. Like Kennard’s off-ball movement, Morris has a special skill as a secondary offensive piece, and that is his midrange game. The Clippers would be hard-pressed to replace that with any other player in Morris’ salary bracket across the league. Defensively, Morris is the least active of the power forwards and the most vertically challenged at the rim. Morris is a 2024 free agent, and his value will likely never be higher than it is now, so he is a consolidation trade candidate.

Nicolas Batum

Batum is Lue’s glue guy, both in terms of a reliable locker room presence as well as a player Lue can deploy at all five positions defensively. He’s not going anywhere. But Batum is stretched as a backup center when he’d ideally be the backup power forward — especially since Batum offers nothing inside the arc offensively and isn’t a strong rebounder.

Robert Covington

That leaves Covington on the outside looking in most nights. The front office saw Covington and Batum’s presence in the second unit as a reason to devalue the center position this season. Lue has been hesitant to embrace the “long lineup,” especially with Leonard and/or George absent so frequently. While Covington fits a 3-and-D profile, Batum has been relied upon more defensively while Covington’s limited offensive package has been further diminished by his 3-pointer abandoning him this season (a career-low 30.6 percent). When the Clippers don’t have a traditional center, the offense is comprised of too many of the same kind of players at the nominal four-five positions: willing and capable shooters who are not interior threats off of post-ups, offensive rebounds, rolls, lobs, drives or midrange pullups.

Positionless basketball is a utopia where players can defend, rebound, and offer stylistic diversity. It’s a scam when you have like-sized players who are redundant or otherwise deficient. Batum and Covington are often too similar, and neither threaten offenses like Morris can, despite Morris’ own inefficiencies. Lue would probably prefer a reliable center alternative instead of trying to find minutes for Covington. The front office would prefer to hold onto Covington and for Lue to find a way to develop the “long lineup” that includes him, team sources told The Athletic. The trade deadline will be a demarcation point between Lue and the front office on Covington’s outlook, and it could go either way. But the return of George and Leonard has led to more consistent minutes for Covington this past week.

What are the Clippers' biggest priorities ahead of the NBA trade deadline? (2)

Robert Covington (Cary Edmondson / USA TODAY Sports)


Ivica Zubac


Zubac’s impact defensively has been the most concerning drop off. The front office would prefer not to add another center, especially given that one of Lue’s primary adjustments in the postseason is to pull Zubac. It does not seem like Zubac is a trade candidate, but with an open roster spot and a $9.7 million trade exception that opened when Serge Ibaka was traded last year, the Clippers have the assets to acquire a veteran who can relieve Zubac.

Moses Brown

The Clippers have two two-way contract centers on completely different levels of expectations. This week, Brown was finally deactivated for the first time this season, and he has only four active games left on his contract. While he is a candidate for an open roster spot at least temporarily, Brown’s limitations on both ends of the floor has left Lue uneasy at times about using him for extended minutes. Brown isn’t a threat on offense outside of dunking range, which goes for shooting and passing, and there have been instances where he is not in the right spot when plays are called. Defensively, Brown is a drop defender only, and he gets caught under the basket too often. It’s been different for the Clippers this year compared to last year when they had Isaiah Hartenstein behind Zubac.

Moussa Diabaté

Diabaté is a second-round rookie learning how to play center in the NBA and he has been active for only 13 games on his two-way contract. While he would be a candidate for a roster spot, the team has been committed to Diabaté developing in the G League. For now, he is getting the backup center opportunities going into the final weeks before the trade deadline.

(Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein / Getty Images)

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