Even last season, when they were making their playoff push, the Clippers were overshadowed by the Lakers and all their attendant drama: their failed midseason pursuit of Anthony Davis (they later got him) ahead of February’s trade deadline, the injuries and the losing, the abrupt resignation of Magic Johnson as their president of basketball operations. It was a fire hose of dysfunction.
The Clippers just quietly went about their business, and the same held true in recent days: They had a plan for free agency, and they were going to work to execute it even after the Lakers finally succeeded in trading for Davis, which was a big deal at the time — and still is.
But with one bold strike, the Clippers managed to outshine the Lakers.
The Clippers are better positioned to vie for titles right away. The Lakers lacked depth even before their roster was gutted by the Pelicans in the Davis deal. The Clippers, on the other hand, managed to keep much of their core intact. Leonard and George, two of the league’s premier two-way players, join a rotation that already includes Lou Williams, the top bench scorer in the history of the league; Montrezl Harrell, a ferocious post presence; and Patrick Beverley, a defense-minded guard.
In a lot of ways, Beverley personifies the identity of the team: tough, aggressive, fearless. George and Leonard should fit right in. Nothing about the Clippers’ approach needs to change. The only difference is that opponents will likely have even more trouble scoring against them.
For the moment, of course, the refashioned Clippers are an experiment that exists only on paper — flashy and full of championship potential, but with some concerns moving forward.
At the top of that list: George, 29, had surgery after the season on both shoulders, and the timeline for his return is unclear. He could miss the start of the season. When he does return, will he be the same type of high-octane shooter? George has already shown himself capable of returning to top shape after a serious injury. In 2014, he sustained a compound fracture in his right leg. A year and a half later, he was playing in another N.B.A. All-Star Game.
In a twist, the Lakers and the Clippers faced each other on Saturday afternoon at the N.B.A.’s summer league in Las Vegas. James sat courtside with Davis. Four seats down sat Jerry West, the Hall of Famer and consultant for the Clippers who has helped guide the team to its new perch in recent seasons.