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Clippers facing big decision with new arena move pending

Los Angeles Clippers Kawhi Leonard Paul George NBA

Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40), forwards Kawhi Leonard (2) and Paul George (13) stands on the court during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Charlotte Hornets in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, March 31, 2024. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Clippers are moving into their new arena in nearby Inglewood this summer. Just who will be on the court and the sideline for them next NBA season are among the decisions facing the team.

The health of their superstar Kawhi Leonard also looms large, after he was limited to two postseason games because of inflammation in his right knee that has been surgically repaired twice. Leonard’s absence proved costly when the Clippers were eliminated from the playoffs in six games by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round.

“We’re still dealing with the inflammation. It’s not a structural thing,” Lawrence Frank, president of basketball operations, said. “We’re going to continue to try to learn how to manage his right knee. He showed that he’s that guy still.”

Leonard played 68 games during the regular season, his most as a Clipper, before missing the final eight because of his knee. He signed a three-year extension worth $52 million in January. But his health has restricted his postseason availability for four straight years.

“I understand the skepticism of, ‘Hey, just this is another year where you haven’t had the group,’” Frank said Monday in his annual end-of-season remarks, “but I would guard against the cynicism because just because it’s happened doesn’t mean it’s always going to happen next year. We’re optimistic that we can put together a team that’s going to be a whole lot better than the group that we just finished with.”

READ: Clippers’ Tyronn Lue passes on addressing speculation over Lakers coaching vacancy

Coach Tyronn Lue is also in the market for an extension and recently said he wants to stay with the team for a long time.

“Our hope is that Ty’s here for a long time and we love Ty,” Frank said. “Ty had a terrific year. He’s one of the elite coaches in today’s game.”

Paul George has a player option for next season at $48.7 million. He said recently he “absolutely” sees himself staying with the Clippers long term.

“We’ve had really, really good conversations over the course of the year and hopeful that we can get him to remain a Clipper,” Frank said.

READ: NBA: Doncic, Irving carry Mavericks past Clippers and into 2nd round 

James Harden will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Clippers acquired him in a trade with Philadelphia in October. He played a key role in the improvement of big man Ivica Zubac as well as easing the load on Leonard and George

George played in 74 games and Harden played in 72. The Clippers won the Pacific Division for the first time in 10 years.

“We want to retain those guys,” Frank said. “We’re hopeful we can but also understand and respect the fact that they’re free agents.”

Russell Westbrook also has a player option. Zubac and Terence Mann both are eligible for extensions this summer.

The Clippers have one selection in the NBA draft in June — 46th in the second round.

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“We will look at any opportunities in the draft via trade,” Frank said. “I think this draft has a very, very healthy middle class. You just got to pick the right player and we got to find the right player.”

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