The Los Angeles Clippers are one game away from their offseason arriving earlier than they hoped for the second straight season, as they will face the Suns in Phoenix needing a Game 5 win to extend the series. L.A. has been within striking distance in all of their three losses to Phoenix, as evidenced by the Clippers actually having a positive net rating in a series they’re losing, but part of their issue has been that they are without their top closer in Kawhi Leonard.
Paul George has been terrific in Leonard’s absence, putting to rest a lot of the narrative around his playoff struggles, as have Reggie Jackson, Terance Mann, and others, but Kawhi’s absence looms large in the lack of on-ball creativity as well as having another elite defender to apply ball pressure to the Suns’ backcourt stars. Mann in particular has turned heads, bringing some much needed energy on both ends to the Clippers both as a reserve and a starter at times, filling part of the Leonard role.
Still, the takeaway from this Conference Finals for most seems to be that the Clippers are a contender that’s short a superstar at the moment due to injury. However, for the sports world’s foremost takesmith, Stephen A. Smith, he sees something different. He sees that it’s time for a changing of the guard and that L.A. should just let him walk in free agency this summer (Leonard has an opt out), citing Mann’s energy as a major reason on top of Leonard’s injury history.
It is just an incredible Stephen A. take that I’m not even sure he fully believes, but he’s still going to let it fly. Any time he starts by couching a take this hard, noting that Kawhi is still an elite, top-5 talent in the NBA, you know it’s going to be a wild ride. If you’re the Clippers, the only way you sell this is if Leonard chooses to go elsewhere and you need to spin it around, but there is no world where they’re saying “yes, we are going to build around Terance Mann instead.” For one, you don’t have to choose between the two, as Mann is under contract and next year you can just give him a bigger role.
There’s also the issue of the Clippers, at most, having $6 million in cap space even if Kawhi leaves, and most likely they’ll be over the cap even if he does. As such, it’s not like they can replace Kawhi with a different star level guy, they’d be replacing him exclusively with Mann and, like, a mid-level exception guy. I do applaud Stephen A. for being willing to not only think up this take but to fire it off on national television, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the Clippers won’t be listening to his advice.