NBA Predictions: Clippers

LeBron James agreed terms with cross-town rival Lakers, so the Clippers are once again little brother in Los Angeles. Their three best players from a year ago are gone, but Avery Bradley is re-signing for two years-$25 million, while Montrezl Harrell has agreed for two years-$12 million. To go along with Marcin Gortat, the Clippers have sixteen contracts and two non-guaranteed contracts to work with.

This many players means the Clippers will have to make at least one cut or trade before the season starts. As constructed, this team is right under the Luxury Tax with total salaries equal to $122,371,725 and is expected to win 42 games again. A healthy Gallinari with something to prove could provide five wins. Harris can be worth five wins this season as well, in his first full season in Los Angeles. Lou Williams got off to a great start with the Clippers with a career high 6.7 Win Shares last season and will do well to replicate that. Gortat has had ups and downs in his career and has improved in his first two years with a new team, so should provide at least six wins. Unfortunately, Bradley was a negative producer last season and the Clippers will depend on his defense on the perimeter, hoping he can be close to NBA average on offense to add a win for this club. Marjanovic has shown flashes of productivity, though in limited minutes. The Clippers will lean on him more down low this season, and he will provide when called upon for at least two wins.

There does not appear to be a player available in free agency that could change the Clippers fortunes, but a trade could be an option for a last-minute of in-season upgrade. This roster is expected to miss the playoffs once again with the same record.

2017-18 Record: 42-40

2018-19 Contracts: 16

2018-19 Total Salaries: $122,371,725

2018-19 Prediction: 42-40

NBA Predictions: Lakers

The new-look Los Angeles Lakers is a retro of Dr. Jerry Buss’s teams, with the biggest star in the NBA on the floor and in the front office. It’s only fitting Magic would recruit LeBron to return the Lakers to legitimacy, but what is this team really capable of this season?

This current roster is expected to add eight wins to last season’s record but still fall short of the making the playoffs in the Wild West. Last season’s eighth seed was Minnesota at 47 wins. LeBron has been able to bring out more from his team than expected, but there is a period of acclimation that takes at least one and sometimes two seasons. Can the challenge of a playoff push–something James has not experienced in over a decade–bring the most out of this group? It’s hard to imagine LeBron James missing the playoffs, and with plenty of room under the Luxury Tax, there could be more moves coming out of the front office. For these reasons, I believe the Lakers will go three games above their expected wins (42.8) in 2018-19 and grab the final spot in the West playoffs.

2017-18 Record: 35-47

2018-19 Contracts: 15

2018-19 Total salaries: $106,474,556

2018-19 Prediction: 46-36 (8th seed in West, First Round exit)

Paul George Free Agency

After one up and down season with the Thunder, Paul George has a $20.7 million option to stay in Oklahoma City for 2018-19. With 8 years of service, George is eligible to sign a maximum extension of 4-years, $136.5 million with the Thunder or any other team. This contract would start at $30.3 million next year and put PG13 into the top-10 highest paid players in the NBA. It seems likely that other teams, such as his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, will offer the max, leaving the Thunder to decide just how far they want to go with this “OK3” experiment.

George had an effective season amidst all the inconsistency in Oklahoma City, accounting for 8.9 Win Shares and a .148 WSP48, while recording 2,891 minutes (9th most in NBA). His Win Share was 20th best in the League–the 20th salary spot is occupied by Anthony Davis at $25.5 million next season. Davis had the 4th most Win Shares at 13.7 and top-10 WSP48 of .241. Al Horford currently sits 10th in the NBA with a $28.9 million salary, and his numbers (7.8WS, .165WSP48) compare favorably for George.

For the Thunder executives, a better comparable would be George’s teammate, Steven Adams (OK4?). In his 5th season, the Kiwi recorded 9.7 Win Shares and .187 WSP48. Both of these marks are ahead of George, and even if both players are improving, Adams is 3 years younger. If George is willing to accept less than the max to stay with the Thunder, it might make sense to align him with the remaining years on Adams’s contract, and adding a fourth year to make it 4-years and about $106.7 million, starting off at $24.2 million next season. Of course, it may prove difficult for George to pass up a max offer somewhere else and this will put the Thunder front office in a tight spot to keep a very important piece for this team at a reasonable deal to enable them to add bench pieces. George is valued at slightly under the max, but will most likely receiving more than one max offer this summer if he decides to opt out.