After making a colossal size splash in free agency during the 2019 off-season, the Los Angeles Clippers became instant title contenders. This young team that battled valiantly against the Golden State Warriors during the last year of their dynasty, all of sudden was looking to create a super team of their own.
Adding reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and All-Star Paul George to this already well-run organization almost seemed too good to be true. Everything was lined up perfectly for the franchise; from the front office, to the coaching staff, to the newly added star power, all the way down to their bench, the Clippers were stacked. With this sensational talent increase, expectations rose sky high and it was up to them to deliver.
Despite having moderate success over the past decade, the Los Angeles Clippers are historically bad as a franchise, especially when it comes to the postseason. An existing franchise since 1970, and residing in Los Angeles since 1984, the Clippers have NEVER made it to the Conference Finals. In fifty professional seasons, they have yet to make it out of the second round and even have a chance at competing for a Finals appearance.
Calling them dreadfully disappointing would be a massive understatement when describing the history of this team. This is what made this season that much more crucial. It could have represented the changing of the times in Los Angeles, with the Clippers potentially taking down the beloved Lakers in the Conference Finals to finally earn some respect within the city. No longer would they be called “the other” Los Angeles basketball team.
After the Lakers took down the Houston Rockets in the semi-finals to advance to their first conference finals in a decade, the Clippers looked to be heading in the same direction, having the Denver Nuggets on the ropes, leading them 3-1 with three opportunities to close them out.
Oh, how the tables turn. Just as Denver surprised the Utah Jazz in the first round, they utterly shocked Los Angeles in this series. A feat that has only been accomplished thirteen times in NBA history, got the best of the Clippers.
Even more amazingly is the fact that this was not the first time a Doc Rivers team has collapsed in this fashion before, as he has now coached three teams that have blown 3-1 leads. The fact that this has happened before, including five seasons ago with the Clippers, may speak more to the inability by Rivers’ teams to close out series.
This constant struggle to hold leads would put most head coaches’ jobs in jeopardy, but the fact that the Clippers actually traded a first-round pick for Rivers because of his past accolades have allowed him slightly more leash.
In seven seasons as the head coach, Rivers greatest accomplishments were all regular season related. He has been instrumental in some phenomenal player and team performances, however, that does not mean anything if the amount of postseason success is basically nonexistent.
Vinny Del Negro, the man Doc Rivers replaced, has experienced the same amount of playoff success with the Clippers as Rivers, reaching the second round in 2012. For such a great coach, it is truly head scratching how little Rivers has done in Los Angeles while still being able to maintain his job.
This past elimination is just another failed championship attempt to add on to his resume. The clock is ticking for the head coach of the Clippers, as it is only a matter of time before the organization decides to pull the plug.
Coaching is only a partial problem for this team; one of the most eye-opening things is the fact that this is the roster that has to win. There is no restructuring or rebuilding, at least not in the near future as they do not have their own first round pick until 2027. All the trades they made to assemble their current roster have a cost, and they will be paying for it over the next several years.
There will be no high-profile prospect to help out for the foreseeable future, therefore figuring out how to find success with what they have now is critical. They will still have many of their main guys returning next season, including Lou Williams and Patrick Beverly to support the two stars. However, sixth man of the year Montrezl Harrell and Marcus Morris are both free agents, neither of which are guaranteed to return.
After Harrell earned his hardware, there is no doubt that his price tag increased. And even if the Clippers choose to bring him back, it would take away almost any cap space for any other notable free agents.
George and Leonard both have max contracts that take up a significant portion of the Clippers salary cap, therefore drawing players to join the roster on a reduced salary may be difficult. Los Angeles will most likely still be a powerhouse in the West for the next few seasons, but the situation is dire.
For every season they do not come away with the Larry O’Brien trophy, their team deteriorates with no reinforcements in site. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are superstars, but with both approaching or at thirty, there is no telling how much longer they continue playing at this high a level.
Leonard has struggled to stay on the court his entire career and George has had some major injuries in the past. With everyone healthy and in their prime this season, the Clippers lost in the second round to the three seed. If they could not beat the three seed this season, how do they expect to win the Finals next season. There are lots of questions surrounding this franchise that need answers soon.
How the Clippers handled their roster is similar to how the Brooklyn Nets arranged theirs back in 2013. That off-season had the Nets trade an absurdly high number of unprotected draft picks for an aging Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry. They made this move because they were convinced that they were going to win with the group they had.
Los Angeles obviously is in a better situation, but the mentality is the same. Sacrificing the future picks, assuming that they will not matter because their team will succeed for years to come. It is highly unlikely that the Clippers become as bad as the Nets turned out, but if Los Angeles is not able to get the job done, they will end up in a similar rebuild situation.
It took many years and some really solid drafting and scouting to just get Brooklyn on the map again. Even with the current state of the Nets being respectable, the amount of quality players those draft picks became still hurt. Los Angeles does not want to follow this path, making success now is a necessity.
It is not panic mode for the Clippers, they have a strong foundation and it will take a lot more than one series loss to tear them apart. However, something does need to change. “The Klaw” on the Clippers was a shell of himself in the playoffs compared to how he was on the Raptors. “Playoff P” played abysmal for most of the postseason.
They were a team that was supposed to rival the Lakers and they were not even good enough to reach them. Literally one game away from the conference finals, and they could not seal the deal. With very limited options to choose from, the Clippers are going to have to stick it out with what they got. Time is not on their side; the Clippers need to win soon because the window is closing.