Lawrence Frank calls Clippers season another 'lost opportunity'

The 2023-24 season ended in disappointment yet again for the Clippers and now they will turn their attention to next season and how they can reach their goal of winning an NBA championship with a core group that’s getting older.

It’ll start with Lawrence Frank, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations, his front-office staff and owner Steve Ballmer having to make some decisions on the best path forward.

The Clippers and Paul Gerorge were unable to reach a contract extension during the season, which means he can become a free agent if he opts out of a contract that would pay him $48.7 million next season.

James Harden, who made $35 million this season and whom the Clippers acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers in October, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Russell Westbrook has a player option for next season of $4.027 million.

Along with a healthy Kawhi Leonard, Frank said the team would like to bring back the entire group, along with giving Clippers coach Tyronn Lue an extension.

First, the Clippers must deal with being eliminated by the Dallas Mavericks 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs.

“Obviously the biggest thing for us is it’s been four years in a row that we haven’t been able to have our best players, best team on the court in April, let alone in the ensuing months,” Frank said in his exit interview Monday. “So, it’s disappointing, yet the regular season in terms of if you’re a believer in that the process determines the results, there were some good indicators there and yet we’re not naive to think that, hey, we just run it back and we’ll be all good.

“That’s not how we look at team building. We look at this year as a lost opportunity, but it’s our job to be able to create a better opportunity for next season and we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to do so.”

Frank said, “No. 1, we’d like to be able to bring back, retain Paul and James” to start the process.

“Yeah, that’s our intent,” Frank said. “We want to retain those guys. We’re hopeful that we can, but also understand and respect the fact that they are free agents. Paul has a decision with his option. James will be an unrestricted free agent so our intent is to bring them back, but also realize that they are elite players and they’ll have a lot of choices.”

The Clippers can offer George up to four years and $221 million. Other teams with salary cap space can offer him up to four years and $212 million. It has been reported the 76ers and Magic will pursue George.

Frank was asked if there was a limit the Clippers are willing to pay George, who has until July 1 to sign an extension.

“We want Paul. We value Paul,” Frank said. “Paul has done some tremendous things here. He’s an elite player and our biggest thing is we always want to be able to treat players well and pay them fairly and we also have to build out a team, especially [because] there is a new CBA (collective bargaining agreement). But in terms of the exact money, I would never go into details other than we’ve had really, really good conversations over the course of the year and hopefully that we can get him to remain a Clipper.”

Frank said Leonard would not have been able to play if the Clippers had a game Monday because of the inflammation in his right knee that kept him out for four of the six playoff games and the last eight regular-season games. He sat out the last two playoff games last season because of a torn meniscus in his right knee.

“The encouraging thing is this seems, big picture, minor in nature in that it’s not a structural thing,” Frank said about Leonard’s current knee injury. “I think the reality is that we’re going to continue to try to learn how to manage his right knee that he’s had two surgeries on his knee. But he’s shown that he can be durable.”

Westbrook eventually came off the bench for the Clippers this season. If he decides to exercise his option, there will be another conversation about his role.

“I’ll sit down with Russ. TLue will sit down with Russ, talk with his representatives and you kind of outline what the role is going forward,” Frank said. “It’s very similar to when Russ came last summer. Like, we explained to him exactly what his role is, what it could be, the different guys that we’re looking at and then Russ has a decision to make. And so we’re kind of going through the process. So, I’m not going to speak for any player in terms of what they’re thinking, but that’s our process.”

Lue has one year left on his deal and there have been no extension talks yet.

The Clippers want him back after leading the team to a 51-31 record and a fourth-place finish in the super-tough Western Conference.

“I think Ty had a terrific year,” Frank said. “Our hope is that Ty is the coach of the LA Clippers for a long time. He’s an unbelievable partner. I love him as a person and as a coach. I think he’s one of the elite coaches in today’s game. … So, our hope is that Ty is here for a long time and we love Ty.”

The Clippers will look to make improvements via trades, free agency and the draft; they have a second-round pick at No. 46.

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