2021-22 record: 42-40
Key addition: John Wall (free agency)
Key subtraction: Isaiah Hartenstein (free agency)
Last season: Kawhi Leonard missed the entire season following knee surgery and Paul George missed 51 games with a torn elbow tendon. The Clippers minus their two best players showed some spunk, yet the final result wasn’t much of a surprise. They were eliminated in the Play-In Tournament by the New Orleans Pelicans, but this was a bridge year anyway. All the Clippers wanted to do, from a reasonable standpoint, was be respectable and ensure that Leonard and George received the best medical care possible in the ramp up to 2022-23. It’s time.
Summer summary: Hello, John Wall. That’s it. That’s the summer summary.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) September 1, 2022
And what a summer it was, at least in terms of projecting and dreaming and forecasting what Wall might bring to the Clippers if he’s healthy. Yes, the h-word isn’t limited to Leonard and George when it comes to the Clippers, unfortunately for them. They now have a third player with a recent injury history and there will be plenty of crossed fingers all season with the Clippers because so much depends on health. The addition of Wall only amplifies that issue.
To be fair, Wall wasn’t really hurt last season in Houston. Well, maybe his feelings when the rebuilding Rockets told him to sit this one out while they gave his minutes to their youngsters. Wall is a prideful man, and he’s anxious to resume his stalled career after dealing with an Achilles injury, not to mention restoring his reputation as a player. That made 2021-22 a bit of a tough time for him (although receiving $44 million for his “pain” bought plenty of aspirin).
Wall opted-in to 2022-23 at $47 million because he knew he wasn’t getting even half that on the open market had he opted out. That locked him into another season in Houston, until he and the Rockets reached a compromise and he was bought out (with Wall reportedly surrendering almost $7 million for his freedom). Doing so paved the way for him to play anywhere he wanted.
He keeps an offseason home in Los Angeles so his move to the Clippers was a natural fit. The Clippers could use a veteran playmaking point guard — no offense, Reggie Jackson — and Wall fit that description during his glory years with the Washington Wizards when he was a five-time All-Star.
Ah, but that was sooo long ago … or so it seems. He’s missed two of the last three seasons and hasn’t played 70 or more games in a season since 2016-17. He will be 32 when the season starts and, depending on your view, he’s either an old 32 (because he played just one year of college), a young 32 (because he played just 113 games over the past five seasons) or a battered 32 (because of the leg injuries).
The Clippers, however, were in no position to refuse. Their future Draft picks belong to OKC from the George sign-and-trade deal and they’re over the salary cap, so it’s challenging to build a contender with those restrictions. Wall already made his money, so the cost to the Clippers was an economical two-year deal at basically the mid-level.
Wall is now healthy by all accounts, and certainly restless, too. All the physical therapy should benefit Wall here in the next chapter of his career. He even trained on his own in Miami, apart from the Rockets last season, when the team gave permission.
Keep in mind that Wall averaged 20.6 points and 6.9 assists per game in 40 games for the Rockets during the 2020-21 season. If his body is right, Wall could be a steal for the Clippers and perhaps the best bang-for-your-buck talent in the league (not counting players on their rookie deals).
He can reduce the playmaking chores George and Leonard carry and helps Jackson, too. Jackson is more of a shooter in a point guard’s body, and regularly deferred to George and Leonard in the half-court offense. There’s no need for that when Wall has the ball. He’s a very good passer and also adept at breaking down a defense. George and Leonard can now be finishers instead of setting others up while Wall (who averages 9.1 assists in his career) has never had two quality teammates on Leonard and George’s level.
Getting Wall ranks as the Clippers’ biggest summer acquisition since signing George and Leonard in the summer of 2019. It all sounds good right now in September. The proof will be over 82 games in 2022-23 (expect plenty of load management) and throughout next spring and, hopefully for the Clippers, next summer as well.
Up next: Sacramento Kings
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