Swanson: Clippers still in wait-and-see mode

Stoplights over spotlights.

Yellow lights on a good day.

So far, the Clippers’ Kawhi-and-PG era has been stop-and-go, somewhere between a slog and a slow burn, dissatisfying because the goal, of course, is for the Clippers to claim their first NBA championship.

The deals the team made at Thursday’s trade deadline didn’t quicken anyone’s heart rate, nor will they accelerate the team’s pace in its run up to the postseason.

Because it’ll take at least a few weeks, after all, to figure out how to play with the new guys, Eric Gordon, Bones Hyland, Mason Plumlee and, perhaps, a point guard off of the buyout market.

Possibly someone like Russell Westbrook, the polarizing player the Lakers just traded to Utah. The Jazz are expected to release him, at which point there’s reportedly a real possibility – for worse or for worse – that he’ll become a Clipper.

But whenever, if ever, the new-look Clippers settle into a rhythm, let’s be real: It’s up to their stars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, to get the team out of neutral and into a race that got more crowded this week.

It’s been so slow-going the past few years, in part, because of the injuries – and incessant, subsequent injury management – experienced by the Clippers’ leading tandem.

The most inopportune knee knock in franchise history, Joe Ingles’ second-round playoff nudge, resulted in Leonard’s torn ACL, costing him the rest of that 2021 postseason, all of last season and slowing him still. (On Friday against Milwaukee, Leonard will miss his 20th game this season due to right knee injury management; they’ve gone 9-10 in those games so far.)

But maybe it’s also the natural order of things, gravitational pushback in line with Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams’ stance that: “Everything you want is on the other side of hard.”

It’ll be easier for the Suns to clear that divide now, with the acquisition of Kevin Durant from Brooklyn in Wednesday night’s stunning blockbuster.

The Western Conference now is headlined by the Durant Suns, who will give the so-far dominant Denver Nuggets a run. And you can trust that the done-proved-it Golden State Warriors will have something to say, their four NBA championships in the past seven years overshadowing any regular-season issues.

The wait-and-see Clippers? Well, we’ll have to wait and see.

They did get the backup big they were shopping for. In exchange for veteran guard Reggie Jackson, they acquired the 6-foot-11 Plumlee, who was posting career highs in points (12.2), rebounds (9.7), assists (3.7) and field goal percentage (66.9) as a starter for Charlotte.

But the Clippers – who are 31-27 and holding onto the fifth seed in the Western Conference – didn’t trade for the “traditional” point guard they’re always hunting for as if it was a mismatch on the court.

That, after fans spent the past week talking themselves into trading for veterans Mike Conley (who went from Utah to Minnesota) or Kyle Lowry (still on the outs in Miami). Or into what it would take to acquire the younger Fred VanVleet (still a Toronto Raptor).

VanVleet would have cost them versatile gamer Terance Mann and more, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, and evidently the Clippers didn’t want the traditional point guard that badly.

So they massaged the margins, which meant saying goodbye to Jackson and Luke Kennard, a couple of fan favorites who were significant figures during the Clippers’ first Western Conference playoff run.

Overall, they got younger (by adding Hyland, 22, and trading Jackson, 32) and older (by bringing back Gordon, 34, and trading Kennard, 26).

They said goodbye to one streaky guard (Jackson) and gained another (Hyland).

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They let go of one of the NBA’s great, reluctant shooters: Kennard led the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage last season (44.9%) and was fifth this season (44.7%). And they got a guard who isn’t as sharp a shooter, but who isn’t afraid to drive (149 of Gordon’s 479 field goal attempts this season came within five feet of the basket).

They also appear primed, possibly, to replace one athletic veteran point guard with diminishing offensive powers (John Wall) with another (Westbrook).

And even before possibly adding Westbrook, they got potentially more combustible, adding Hyland in exchange for the Clippers’ 2024 and 2025 second-round picks. That the Lou Williams-esque 22-year-old was made available for a bargain price had something to do with the notion that he didn’t hide his displeasure with his limited role on those first-place Nuggets, even walking off the bench during a recent game, according to the Denver Post.

With 24 regular-season games left, what the Clippers need more than a point guard, more than they needed a center: Urgency, some giddy up.

Because idling at the stoplight isn’t going to get them past hard and where they want to go.

Jalen Rose asks the same question you are: The Clippers got their big bucket o’ wings — but who’s setting the table for this feast?

— Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson) February 9, 2023

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