If the subsequent few months are to be spent analyzing the way forward for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, it is just honest and proper to now spin the identical highlight on the LA Clippers.
It’s stunning that that is the place the Clippers are after the Denver Nuggets accomplished one other 3-1 comeback, taking Game 7 104-89 and the second-round Western Conference playoff series on Tuesday. This season was ticketed to be the Clippers’ ascendancy, not a derailment — however issues transfer rapidly in the NBA.
After such an odious loss, it have to be identified that the Clippers’ season has been a failure. It have to be reported that stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are one season away from having the choice to enter free company.
Any dialogue about the Clippers’ scenario have to be prefaced with an evidence of these stakes. LA traded a possible franchise cornerstone in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and unprotected first-round picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026 (plus choose swaps in 2023 and 2025) to the Oklahoma City Thunder for the potential to compete for titles with George and Leonard proper now. The Clippers traded away their 2020 first-round choose for soon-to-be free agent Marcus Morris Sr.
They’ve backed their means right into a pinch level. This offseason, the Clippers can supply George a contract extension for as much as three years. With every part traded, they’re compelled to supply it. But George holds the option to change into a free agent in 2021 (due to a participant choice) or 2022, and there is a affordable probability that he might go on a Clippers supply. Leonard has the identical deal.
Where that would depart the Clippers earlier than the begin of subsequent season is in precisely the identical spot as a bunch of different groups, akin to the Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks: standing at the precipice, plotting a leap of religion. The Bucks, who’ve taken up residence on the cliff’s edge, with Antetokounmpo taking a while earlier than he decides whether or not to signal an upcoming contract extension supply, would not thoughts the firm.
Once that enterprise is pushed apart, many round the league assume the Clippers will really feel the must do a top-down evaluation of how issues went to date astray from their title-favorite standing.
In some circumstances, akin to Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams going into tailspins in the Florida bubble after prolonged absences due to deaths of their households and quarantines, there have been unexpected circumstances that went in opposition to the crew.
But lots of the flaws that ate away at the Clippers in the three consecutive losses over the previous week weren’t new.
There are some schematic points, absolutely. Perhaps coach Doc Rivers did not use sufficient pick-and-roll performs when the offense stagnated. Perhaps relying on a bench that was excessive on scoring however low on protection was a mistake. Perhaps Patrick Beverley ought to have stopped making an attempt to be such a pest on protection that he was consistently in foul bother. Perhaps George’s streaky offensive recreation wanted to be smoothed out. Perhaps Leonard’s unbelievable shot-making abilities made him much less susceptible to be a playmaker for teammates underneath playoff stress.
These are all affordable and contributing components to what occurred. But the Clippers have been prudently constructed to have the ability to modify to any opponent. They can play large, they will play small, they will play quick, they will play sluggish, they will put out a taking pictures lineup or a rebounding lineup. They ought to have, in principle, survived any of those points.
Leonard has two rings to show that. And here is one for his ideas as he tries to get some offseason sleep: Had he stayed in Toronto, he virtually definitely would have been nearer to ring No. 3.
This goes to be a bitter offseason — however not one which rival executives count on will carry large change. The Clippers will possible attempt to re-sign free brokers Harrell, Morris and JaMychal Green (if he opts out).
With the George commerce, they’re in deep now, they usually want all the supporting characters they will maintain — if to not completely run it again, then to a minimum of retain the chance for trades. If they’re keen to take on long-term cash in an unsure monetary and salary-cap panorama, league sources consider the Clippers might cobble collectively some gamers on the roster to execute a commerce to usher in extra expertise.
Their proprietor’s price is at the moment north of $70 billion, and Steve Ballmer is not more likely to specific concern about the luxurious tax.
As exhausting as it’s to consider, with their having two of the three highest finishers in the Sixth Man of the Year voting with Harrell and Williams, the Clippers would possibly must revamp their bench — and people contracts would possibly assist.
As one rival government mentioned: “You’ve heard of the saying, ‘In for a dime, in for a dollar’? Well, they’re in for 95 cents, in for a dollar.”
The poker reference is an effective one. You can debate whether or not LA simply had a pair of aces cracked on the river card by the Nuggets or their hand was a combo draw that missed. However it is labeled, it was the appropriate transfer. The solely true choice now could be to climate the loss and attempt to play the hand once more in hopes that the odds even out with the crew put collectively.
That is what pot-committed appears to be like like. The reward was alleged to be a wonderful window of title competition that may make irrelevant Leonard’s choice to not signal for the most 4 years in the summer season of 2019.
But when the mud settled on that midsummer coup, the actuality was that the Clippers secured solely two years.
The first 12 months has been squandered.
As dizzying as this is perhaps to grasp, the clock has began ticking.