Clippers examine point guard: Does John Wall have a future?

It’s the theme that has never been erased since the Clippers partnership began with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George almost four years ago.

Will the Clippers feel the need to add another point guard to maximize their championship aspirations?

With the Feb. 9 trading deadline approaching and the lack of a backup center hurting it in Thursday’s loss in Milwaukee that saw a 21-point lead vanish in the third quarter, it may not even be the most pressing position on the depth chart.

But judging by their words and actions, the Clippers’ position on the importance of a point guard seems clear, although current backup John Wall, who has not played since January 13 with a stomach injury, may not be the best choice .

Last month, coach Tyronn Lue admitted that while he, a former NBA point guard, held a slightly biased opinion, he prefers to keep a “traditional point guard” in his rotation, and the team’s front office remains engaged in trade discussions for top ball handlers said people across the league afforded anonymity to openly discuss the situation.

Toronto’s Fred VanVleet appears to be the primary target, but Miami’s Kyle Lowry, Utah’s Mike Conley and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Charlotte’s Terry Rozier have been linked to the team at various points.

Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving called for a trade Friday, according to multiple reports, but the Clippers are not considered an obvious place to land.

The question seems not to be whether a point guard is needed, but rather whether one can be acquired with the skills to enhance a championship hungry but still interlocking team that will lead their offense through Leonard and George at a price the Clippers can stomach. A point guard’s success depends on a team’s specific needs, Wall said.

When asked what best fits the Clippers’ heliocentric, heavily used offense, he described an operator who “was similar to Mario Chalmers with the Heat,” Wall said in the team’s shootaround Thursday in Milwaukee. “Playing defense and knocking down threes. That’s really your role.

“If you can’t do that, it’s quite difficult to play with these guys because you’re not going to have the ball in your hands a lot, you’re probably going to be in the corner, that’s you’re probably the guy who puts up screens and a lot spins.”

There’s also the question of what the Clippers would do to add a new guard to a roster that already has too many for Lue’s current nine-man rotation.

Lue prominently featured Wall, 32, before Jan. 13 and Wall has since missed the last 11 games. However, league sources doubt he is fit. Lue wanted a “traditional point guard” on the floor in crunch time this week, confiding in former starter Reggie Jackson off the bench. With Lue no longer playing lineups with three smaller guards due to their acknowledged defensive deficiencies, the Clippers are left with insufficient opportunities to play against Jackson, Wall, Norman Powell and Luke Kennard.

Several people in the league said the Clippers have been proactive in seeking trading partners for Wall and are considering the possibility of buying out the former five-time All-Star if a deal doesn’t go through. Wall has averaged 11.4 points, 5.2 assists and 2.7 rebounds but at 40% shooting, with a team low of minus 9.2 net rating, a measure of the difference in points scored and allowed when a player is on and off the pitch. Wall’s catch-and-shoot efficiency (52% effective field goal percentage) was significantly more reliable than his pull-up shots (27%).

When asked if he hears his name in trade rumors, Wall said he only cares about what he can control. For now, that means his recovery from an injury, which hit a new milestone on Thursday when he took part in a controlled full-court scrimmage for the first time against the team’s player development coaches and his younger teammates. He said he has no target date for a return.

“That period for the whole league is interesting to see if there’s any trades happening, to see if the teams stay healthy and stuff like that, so you just play it all by ear,” Wall said. “Somehow when you’re here you just try to figure out what your role is and when you’re not here then you have to try to find a new situation, what the new situation could be like and stuff like that.

“I’m just trying to focus on coming back and playing. Just let everything else happen as it will happen.”

When Lawrence Frank, the team’s basketball division president, chimed in on the point guard debate a year ago, he described a philosophy that avoids rigid definitions of what a traditional ball handler should look like and instead provides the right skills to distribute and Organize to find, take shots and defend regardless of a player’s size.

The Clippers have been testing such different options for the past few weeks. George was asked to increase his responsibilities as lead ballhandler in late January, and Terance Mann, a high-energy player whom Lue ideally sees as a small forward, has been a nominal point guard since he replaced Jackson in the starting lineup a month ago, and has in fourth Quarter not played on Thursday.

Leonard said this week that improvement depends “on us getting better, doesn’t it [at] that position, it’s about every position out there.” He also noted that the team’s deepest postseason run in 2021 was fueled in part by strong point guard play.

“We were on a great run when I tore my cruciate ligament and I think we had a point guard at the time and that was Reggie [Jackson]’ Leonard said. “We’ll see. It’s a T-Lue question I think. I play out there with everyone that’s out there on the pitch and I have faith in my teammates.” Clippers examine point guard: Does John Wall have a future?

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