What I’m hearing about James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers’ offseason

LA Clippers guard Xavier Moon was named to the 2023 NBA All-Summer League Second Team. If that sounds unusual, that’s because it is; a Clipper hadn’t won a summer league award since 2016 first-round selection Brice Johnson was named to the Orlando All-Tournament Team that year.

Moon has toiled in relative obscurity throughout his basketball career to this point and is without a contract as an unrestricted free agent. His wait for a real opportunity to make an NBA roster is just one of the many patience exercises renewed for the Clippers now that summer league is over. He showed this month that he can get into his spots and play efficient basketball (19.6 points, 55.4 percent field goals) while stepping up late in games for a Clippers team that it went 3-2 with a plus-23 point difference.

The Clippers believe Moon is a legitimate NBA player. But at this point, the Clippers are focused elsewhere. That hasn’t stopped them from making decisions on the other parts of the roster that are easier decisions, such as second-year center Moussa Diabaté agreeing to another year on a two-way contract on Friday. That leaves two open two-way contract spots, one of which is likely earmarked for rookie small forward Jordan Miller in the second round.

Moon isn’t the only Clippers point guard unsure of what the future holds. Jason Preston, a 2021 second-round pick, has a contract guarantee date today (July 18). Unlike Moon, Preston had an up-and-down summer league experience, scoring the exact number of points (45) on the exact number of field goal attempts (41) that he did two summers ago when he was rookie. Preston stayed healthy and had a fantastic 30:8 assist-to-turnover ratio, but the five summer league games didn’t significantly change the mindset of where Preston is at this point. Preston has some NBA tools (passing sense is special, he doesn’t take bad shots and he has a nose for rebounding), but the concerns with his strength and athleticism belie his smarts and length.

The reality for Preston and Moon is that the roster was full from the time first-round rookie Kobe Brown signed his contract. Although the idea is to upgrade and consolidate, it is a list that could be who the Clippers attend training camp with:

Post Las Vegas Summer League depth chart

Post-LVSL Starters 2nd unit 3rd unit Other things


Russell Westbrook

Terrance Mann

Bones Hyland

Jason Preston (July 18)


Paul George

Norman Powell

Brandon Boston Jr.


Kawhi Leonard

Kenyon Martin Jr.

Amir Coffey


Marcus Morris Sr.

Nicholas Batum

Robert Covington


Ivica Zubac

Mason Plumlee

Kobe Brown

Moussa Diabate

The move everyone is anticipating, of course, is how Philadelphia 76ers point guard James Harden will come to the LA Clippers. This was told by a source close to Harden, who was granted anonymity so they could speak freely Athletics that Harden began showing interest in joining the Clippers as early as late June, prior to the decision to opt-in to the final year of his contract to facilitate a trade, and incumbent Clippers point guard Russell Westbrook was ready over Harden’s interest before re-signing. .

But Harden’s opt-in gave Philadelphia control over when and where Harden would be moved. The timing of this transaction has not gone as well as Chris Paul’s 2017 pick when the Clippers sent him to Harden’s Houston Rockets. Kyrie Irving’s opt-in with the Brooklyn Nets last summer went smoother than this; the Nets didn’t end up dealing Irving until the weekend before the trade deadline last February. The February before that, 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey finally traded the inactive and disgruntled Ben Simmons for (ironically) Harden. Even going back to how Morey acquired Harden in the first place shows how late these things can come together, as Harden wasn’t traded by the Oklahoma City Thunder to Morey’s Rockets until Oct. 27, 2012 — four days before Houston’s regular season opener. that year.

Anyone waiting for that transaction might want to take a trip outside, because it’s not happening anytime soon. The Clippers will still keep tabs on that potential deal and other smaller deals that would achieve the ideals of consolidating roster depth; as president of basketball operations Lawrence Frank said on draft night, the roster the Clippers have now may not be the same roster when the season begins in the fall, or when it continues into the winter trade deadline, or when it wraps up in time for a spring after the season. . With a nice amount of negotiable contracts compared to other teams that could pursue Harden or other players, the Clippers will be open for business. It’s just that the business isn’t going to resemble the rush of the hot stove in the early days of free agency; the baristas have to take breaks and do some cleaning in the shop.

The Summer League in Las Vegas allowed the front office, coaches and non-participating players to meet. Head coach Tyronn Lue got around on a scooter to take the pressure off a lower leg injury; he was at every summer league game. Kawhi Leonard was with assistant coach Jeremy Castleberry. Paul George recorded episodes of his podcast with teammates (finally) while working out with young players like Brandon Boston Jr., Bones Hyland, new trade acquisition KJ Martin and Amir Coffey. Mason Plumlee came through after signing his contract to watch one of the summer league games after the Vegas exodus. Norman Powell, a player often linked to a potential Harden deal, returned from vacation in Greece to take in a game. Terance Mann was in town early.


Why James Harden’s reunion with Daryl Morey in Philadelphia went south

Just as the potential trade market is relatively slow, so will the extension negotiations between the Clippers and Leonard. The dialogue is healthy as Leonard is extension eligible now; George will not be extended until September. History says Leonard is likely to hit the open market. The San Antonio Spurs did not reach an extension with Leonard in 2014 despite Leonard being the reigning NBA Finals MVP. Leonard reached restricted free agency in 2015 and signed a five-year max contract from there that included a player option. Leonard opted out of that contract after winning his second NBA Finals MVP in 2019, leaving the Toronto Raptors after one season to sign a three-year deal with the Clippers.

Leonard opted out again in 2021 to sign the current contract he’s on now, a four-year deal that includes a 2024 player option. At media day in 2021, Leonard was open that he would have signed a one-plus-one to maximize his earnings if he hadn’t torn his ACL the previous postseason, and he wanted to avoid having the team respond to questions regarding his willingness to return from injury or re-sign while recovering from knee surgery in the 2021-22 season. Leonard could take less money on an extension where the Clippers need emergency help to build future teams. But Leonard could also maximize his earning potential, especially in the wake of missing postseason games to injury three straight years.

On the other hand, George has reached an extension with the Clippers once already, waiving free agency in the 2021 offseason to sign the four-year extension he’s on now. That deal includes a 2024 player option, which is ultimately what Leonard lined up his 2021 contract with to define this current contender window before the Intuit Dome opened. Unlike Leonard, George has a history with extensions, as he also waived restricted free agency in 2014 by signing a five-year max extension in September 2013 with the Indiana Pacers that had a player option in 2018. George declined that option after one season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, signed a new four-year deal with Oklahoma City to begin the 2018 offseason, was traded to the Clippers to join Leonard a year later in 2019, and then signed his current extension a year after that.

Frank has praised Leonard and George for being good team building partners. On one hand, both Leonard and George could sacrifice their next deals to stay in their hometowns and try to give the Clippers the best chance from a personnel standpoint to win a championship. On the other hand, both stars are on the other side of 30 years old, with several major injuries on their respective ledgers. Both play at a high level, and both know that signing a contract with a team doesn’t mean that team won’t trade you (see: Blake Griffin; don’t see: Bradley Beal).

Training camps will be underway for all 30 teams 10 weeks from today; we are as close to it as we are removed from the end of the conference semifinals. We’ve come a long way with some offseason stuff, but now with the summer league wrapped up, the true dog days of the NBA offseason begin. For the Clippers, that means a lot of potential moves with no real deadlines to spur true near-term action.

(Photo of James Harden and Paul George: Kyle Ross / USA Today)

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