It's not exactly a secret that the pressure is on the Clippers to finally break through and reach their first Finals/win the title since Kawhi and Paul George joined forces back in 2019-20. While they've gotten close, it's certainly hard to get over the hump when your best players are always hurt. Losing a year of Kawhi due to his ACL tear didn't help, Paul George never playing more than 56 games as a Clipper isn't exactly great, and in the NBA you only get so many cracks at it before you blink and your roster looks completely different.
For the Clippers, this is their win now window. Everything they do isn't so they can contend in the future, it's so that they win the title now. Signing Westbrook at last year's trade deadline, making the James Harden trade, bringing in Daniel Theis, you could make the case that the Clippers have one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the league with the results to match (23-13, 4 seed).
The thing is, nothing else really mattered unless the team figured out the biggest elephant in the room, which was the pending extensions for both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. As a reminder, this is where both players stand in terms of their current deals
As you can see, had things gone south in LA, it was very possible for the entire experiment to be over in the blink of an eye. Given what the Clippers gave up to bring both guys in, having a world where both turn down their player options and hit the free agent market this summer would have been a complete disaster. I could make the case that it didn't matter what they did this season or how many games they played, the Clippers had to offer them extensions simply because of how impossible it would be to replace each guy under the new CBA rules.
The good news is that both Kawhi and George have been as healthy as you could ask for this season, which had to be a relief for Clippers fans. It remains true that as long as those guys are active, the Clippers are contenders.
Then today, we saw the team answer a massive question about their future.
Yeah, you usually don't see a player turn down a $48M option unless another fully guaranteed max was heading his way, and I'd say 3/152M fits the bill. Steve Ballmer obviously has the money, and now Kawhi is locked in for the foreseeable future as the Clippers head into their new arena.
Is it a little concerning we didn't also immediately get a Paul George extension announcement as well? Maybe, but I wouldn't worry about that just yet.
In my opinion, George would be crazy to leave now that we know the Clippers are keeping the band together. We'll see how they finish the year/how their postseason goes, but in terms of being in a position to contend, the healthy Clippers are a great option.
The larger issue is what this now means for the potential free agent class this summer. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were potentially two of the biggest names that could have hit the market, true needle moving players that can change the outlook of whichever team forks over the cash to bring them in. Now? The list of potential elite names looks a whole lot different
Looking at this list, I think we can also rule out guys like LeBron, OG Anunoby and Harden (Clips don't make that trade to not pay Harden), so once you start looking at these names it gets pretty dicey rather quickly.
You love this if you're Pascal Siakam, a player who is now the best player that is set to hit the market (assuming PG13 extends) and has already made it known that he's not signing any type of extension if he's traded in the next month. Why do that when you can hit the open market as the best player and essentially fall ass backward into a max deal? Teams like the Sixers are going to have max money to throw around as they look for another star to add to that roster, and now that the other elite names are gone Siakam might be the best they can get.
I do think there's something to be said about taking care of both of these extensions well ahead of what will be a crucial playoff run for the Clippers. Eliminating as many potential distractions as you can is a good thing, and to also get it at a slight discount AND not having a player option at the end of it is a pretty huge win for LAC.
Barring injury and assuming the George extension also gets done, the Clippers no longer have an excuse to not get this done. They don't have to worry about the future of their cornerstone pieces, they have a legit coach, a legit roster, and they have an owner willing to spend whatever it takes in order to contend.
Whether or not they can actually pull it off is what's going to make their second half of the season/playoff run so exciting to watch. As we know, a fully healthy Kawhi has shown he's more than capable of carrying a team to a title, and if it's going to happen again and he brings the Clippers their first ever title after bringing the Raptors their first ever title, I'd say he's worth every last penny.