While Kawhi Leonard may attempt a return at some point during the season, the LA Clippers know they will be without him for an extended period of time. Without their best player, there is an increased amount of pressure on the Clippers to execute in every way possible in order to remain competitive while they await Kawhi's return.
While the majority of the Clippers' success will be determined by what they do on the floor once the season begins, there are decisions that must be made between now and then that will impact the team's trajectory. Of these looming decisions, three stand out the most.
1. Who will get the final roster spot?
Perhaps the most consequential of the Clippers' looming decisions is who they decide to give their final roster spot to. Under normal circumstances, a team's final roster spot usually gets little to no playing time; however, with Serge Ibaka expected to miss time at the beginning of the season, the Clippers will be relying on either Harry Giles or Isaiah Hartenstein to fill his spot.
Both Giles and Hartenstein were signed by the Clippers to non-guaranteed deals on the premise that they would compete with one another for the team's final roster spot. While both centers have performed well during the pre-season, Hartenstein has truly shined. If the Clippers decide to offer him their final roster spot, he can likely be expected to see rotation minutes on a regular basis while Serge Ibaka continues his rehab.
2. Who will the "finishing five" be?
Head coach Ty Lue has already revealed that his starting lineup to begin the season will be Reggie Jackson, Eric Bledsoe, Paul George, Marcus Morris, and Ivica Zubac. While those will be the first five each night for the Clippers, it is likely that a different lineup will finish games. Ty Lue has shown the ability to adjust his finishing five, and even his starting lineup, on a game-by-game basis; however, there is usually more structure to these lineups at the beginning of a new season.
Coach Lue could opt to go small on some nights with Nicolas Batum sliding into Ivica Zubac's spot if the matchup allows for it, or he could sub in Terance Mann or Luke Kennard for Eric Bledsoe if he wants more scoring prowess. Even without Kawhi Leonard, this Clippers team is incredibly versatile, and Ty Lue will be tasked with maximizing that versatility.
3. Does Brandon Boston Jr. crack the rotation?
As things currently stand, Reggie Jackson, Eric Bledsoe, Paul George, Marcus Morris, Ivica Zubac, Nicolas Batum, Terance Mann, Luke Kennard, and Justise Winslow are the Clippers who can likely be guaranteed to see rotation minutes to start the season. This 9-man rotation excludes both available rookies, as well as the two centers competing for the final roster spot.
If Hartenstein makes the roster, and it currently seems like that will be the case, he can probably be pencilled into that 10th rotation spot as the backup center. This leaves both Keon Johnson and Brandon Boston Jr. on the outside looking in. Keon Johnson, the Clippers' lone first round pick, just has not shown enough in the pre-season to warrant rotation minutes; however, Brandon Boston Jr. has made a strong case.
With the depth that the Clippers have, even in Kawhi's absence, it is unlikely to expect Brandon Boston Jr. to get regular minutes right away; however, if injuries or foul trouble become an issue, he has made a case to be the next man up.