How did the Clippers Get Here? Where do they Go From Here?
The Los Angeles Clippers did the unthinkable. A potential battle for LA in the Western Conference Finals has been cut short after the Clippers relinquished their 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets, ultimately losing the series in seven games.
The anticipation for this 2019-20 Clippers team was at an all-time high following the acquisitions of Paul George via trade, and the then reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. The two superstars joined a team mixed with both young talent and gritty veterans.
The Clippers had just gotten out of a tough six-game series against the eventual West Champs, the Golden State Warriors. Things were looking up for a franchise that has always played second fiddle to the iconic Lakers.
The expectation was at-least a Western Conference Finals berth, and at times during the regular season, this team looked capable enough to be a dominant force in the playoffs.
Leonard looked as if he came back this season even stronger. The injuries that had plagued him during his stint in Toronto seemed gone, even though the forward still sat out games due to load management. His playmaking seemed to have taken the next step, as he averaged a career-high 4.9 assists during the regular season.
Paul George also looked like an elite player during the regular season, averaging 21.5 points while shooting .412 percent from three.
The Clippers also had two of the best bench players in the league, with both Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams finishing as finalists for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award.
All that, along with a cast of terrific role players in Marcus Morris, JaMychal Green, and Patrick Beverly, and a veteran coach in Doc Rivers, it looked as if, on paper, this team was destined to be great.
That’s the problem. On paper, a lot of ideas seem good. What matters is how what’s on paper translates to the practice.
Chemistry has been one of the more popular words being thrown out there by Clipper players, and while many of us in the sports media space don’t have first hand accounts of the issues in the locker room, it’s clear on the court.
Consistency was a main issue for this Clipper team all year long. Leonard and George were in and out of the lineup often due to load management. There were only a handful amount of games that the entire roster had played together. How can a team develop chemistry when they haven’t played together on a consistent basis?
Complacency is what ultimately resulted from the lack of consistency and chemistry issues. A 2-1 series lead against the Dallas Mavericks was the start. Kristaps Porzingis goes down with injury, and the Clippers get complacent.
Doc Rivers even mentioned at the postgame that he thought Porzingis going down was actually bad for his team as he knew something bad would happen.
Luka Doncic then proceeded to knock down a dagger game winning shot. Luckily for the Clippers, they locked down and took the next two games to win the series, in relatively easy fashion. They weren’t as fortunate in the second round.
You can look at X’s and O’s to really identify where the Clippers went wrong. You can blame any of the star players, role players, or even the head coach. The reality is this Clipper team lacked what all Championship teams need. Quintessentially, all teams that reach the pinnacle play with one goal in mind. Championship teams play for one another, they play the game together.
While Paul George can claim that this season was never ‘championship or bust’ the not-so-secret-goal of this Clippers team (as an organization) all year was to emerge from the shadow of the Lakers, and prove that this team also deserved to play in LA.
The fixation with beating the Lakers and becoming the number one team in LA is understandable. After so many years, the Clippers wanted to be on top in LA. The problem was they never really took any team seriously other than the Lakers, and it showed in their inability to close out the Nuggets on two occasions.
The motto for the Clippers this year was “LA, our way.”
LA their way. The Clipper way, has always had a track record of disappointment. This year is no different.
What’s next for the Clippers?
With the series loss, Doc Rivers now has three series’ in his career where his teams he’s coached have blown a 3-1 lead. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both have a player option which they can exercise to become free agents as early as 2021. They traded away most of their draft picks in the George trade, and have limited assets to move.
The logical scenario for the Clippers is to run it back. They’ve already locked in to this roster after mortgaging a majority of their future during this decade. Montrezl Harrell is a free agent in the offseason, and he is set for a larger payday. Harrell is an integral part of this roster, and his absence would sure be felt.
The Clippers would also benefit from having a consistent shot-creating point guard on the roster, as when the going got tough, the Clipper supporting cast withered away, and Kawhi was left to keep the team afloat alone.
Regardless of what they decide to do this offseason, it’s clear that they have already pushed all the chips to the middle of the table. Sometimes the gamble pays off, ask the Raptors. Most of the time, when the cards are laid out, and they’re not in your favour, you lose everything.
At the end of the day, it will always be a make or miss league, both on paper, and on the court.