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Dan Woike: Time could be running out for Clippers and Kawhi Leonard

By Dan Woike, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

The Oklahoma City Thunder made that trade because they knew they'd need time to rebuild. The Clippers made that trade because they knew they couldn't afford to wait.

The Clippers again will have to move forward at double speed this offseason because, once again, there's no time to wait. Leonard, the player who fully legitimized the Clippers as a bona fide destination by signing there after winning a title with Toronto in 2019, could opt out and walk after next season.

Marcus Morris and Montrezl Harrell are free agents, and JaMychal Green can become one if he declines his player option. And while George was fully in the "run-it-back" camp postgame Tuesday, Leonard said the Clippers need to adjust.

"We've got to get smarter," Leonard said.

Leonard, as with George and Rivers, said the Clippers' chemistry problems were crippling. Multiple players fought COVID-19 before arriving in the bubble. Three others left Orlando to cope with the deaths of friends and family.

And with players in and out of quarantine - time extended in one case by a trip to a gentleman's club for some chicken wings - kept the Clippers from the practice time Rivers craved once it was announced the season was back on.

 

Denver also had to fight adversity, its organization hit hard by the virus. Coach Michael Malone and star Nikola Jokic were among those who tested positive. When the team arrived in Orlando, they did so with just more than half its players.

The Nuggets, Rivers said, had the groundwork to absorb those setbacks because of the time they spent together preparing for such challenges. The Clippers didn't have that luxury, needing to adjust in moments, like a student cracking a book for the first time the night before an exam.

They never had that chemistry, nor the mental fortitude to stay within game plans for 48 minutes, and it cost them, especially in Games 5 and 6. They didn't have the toughness to cope with the pressure that built with each missed shot. And they definitely didn't have enough players staying unnerved as Leonard and George turned in horrible offensive performances in Game 7.

Does bringing Harrell, the reigning sixth man of the year, and Morris back solve those problems? That's for the Clippers to decide over the upcoming months. Any pathways to significant improvement probably will have to be made through a trade, and almost certainly will include the Clippers taking on hefty, long-term contracts because they don't have the capital to acquire a great player on the quick.

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