With a do-or-die matchup against the Pelicans on Friday night, the Clippers will have to pull off the improbable without Paul George and Kawhi Leonard — the way it’s been all season.
The dynamic duo have yet to play a game together this season. Leonard underwent surgery on a partially torn ACL last July, and the recently returned George entered health and safety protocols early Friday.
Failure to make the postseason would mark a third wasted year for the pair in their prime — and another disappointment for a team with the NBA’s third-highest payroll ($167.8M).
- Leonard and George ($39.3M each) make a combined $78.6M this season — 47% of L.A.’s payroll.
- The Clippers have committed $237.8M to the duo over the next three years. Their identical contracts include player options worth $48.8M in 2024-25.
- PG and Kawhi have only played 80 games together (59-21).
- L.A. made the West Semis in 2019-20 and lost to Phoenix in last season’s West Finals.
The Clips will have at least two more seasons with the star pairing to win their first championship.
It also doesn’t hurt having the richest owner in sports. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who’s worth an estimated $96.5 billion, has been willing to spend whatever it takes to win a title — the Clippers have carried a top-four payroll in each of the duo’s three years together.
The pressure and financial stakes will only increase in their new $2 billion arena, set to be built by 2024.