While they exited the playoffs a month ago, the Los Angeles Clippers still are ever-present at the NBA Finals.
The matchup between the Warriors and Toronto Raptors is chock-full of storylines, including two stars, Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant, who both could find new homes this summer.
The Clippers hope both players make the move to Staples Center come July and turn the Clippers into the new Western Conference power.
L.A.'s plan of pairing Leonard and Durant together has been discussed ad nauseum for months, but it popped up again in the lead-up to the NBA Finals when Clippers head coach Doc Rivers compared Kawhi Leonard to Michael Jordan during an appearance on ESPN.
Leonard grew up idolizing Jordan and his affinity for the NBA legend is well known.
As The Athletic's Sam Amick notes, Rivers' comments could be what he truly believes, or part of a nuanced approach the Clippers have been using to get in with both Leonard and Durant.
In the case of the Clippers, whose hopes of landing Leonard and the Warriors’ Kevin Durant remain very much afloat in spite of this incredible Raptors run, their approach has been both well-chronicled and thus far effective. They coined a pro-Clippers/anti-Lakers phrase internally that was quite prophetic: They’re all about the black top, not the big top.
According to Amick, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has made every attempt to be around Durant and his inner circle.
"Their owner, Steve Ballmer, spent some quality time with Durant’s agent and business manager, Rich Kleiman, when he appeared on his ESPN show, “The Boardroom.” He made the savvy move of accepting an invitation to speak at the Nike global sports marketing meetings earlier this season as well, with key Durant associates on hand that day to hear the riveting speech from the man whose wealth far surpasses any other owner.," Amick writes.
As for Leonard, the Clippers have sent scouts to countless Raptors games. There's also Rivers' comments comparing Leonard to his idol, MJ. And as Amick points out, Leonard's love for Jordan was first unearthed in a 2016 Sports Illustrated story by acclaimed writer Lee Jenkins. Jenkins, of course, now works in the Clippers' front office.
The Clippers are going all-in on their plan.
While the focus of The Finals will be on Leonard and a possible matchup with Durant -- should the two-time NBA FInals MVP return from a strained calf -- the Clippers and their summer blockbuster potential won't be far from everyone's mind.