If the following few months are to be spent analyzing the way forward for Giannis Antetokounmpo and his future with the Milwaukee Bucks, it is just honest and proper to now spin the identical highlight on the LA Clippers.
It is beautiful that that is the place the Clippers are after the Denver Nuggets accomplished one other 3-1 comeback, taking Recreation 7 104-89 and the second-round Western Convention playoff sequence on Tuesday night time. This season was ticketed to be the Clippers’ ascendancy, not a derailment — however issues transfer quick within 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.
And any dialogue concerning the Clippers’ state of affairs have to be prefaced with an evidence of these stakes. L.A. traded a possible franchise cornerstone in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and unprotected first-round picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026 (plus decide swaps in 2023 and 2025) to the Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder for the flexibility to compete for titles with George and Leonard proper now. The Clippers traded away their 2020 first-round decide for soon-to-be free agent Marcus Morris Sr.
They’ve backed their means right into a pinch level. This offseason, the Clippers can provide George a contract extension for as much as three years. With all the pieces traded, they’re compelled to supply it. However George at present holds the selection to change into a free agent in 2021 (on account of a participant choice) or 2022, and there is a affordable likelihood he may move on a Clippers provide. Leonard has the identical deal.
The place that would go away the Clippers earlier than the beginning of subsequent season is strictly in the identical spot as a bunch of different groups just like the Miami Warmth, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks: standing on 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 deciding whether or not to signal an upcoming contract extension provide, would not thoughts the corporate.
As soon as that enterprise is pushed apart, many across the league assume the Clippers will really feel the necessity to do a top-down evaluation of how issues went up to now astray from their title-favorite standing.
In some circumstances, like Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams going into tailspins within the Florida bubble after prolonged absences on account of deaths within the household and quarantines, there have been simply unexpected circumstances that went towards them.
However lots of the flaws that ate away the Clippers over this previous week within the three consecutive losses weren’t new.
There are some schematic points, absolutely. Maybe coach Doc Rivers did not use sufficient pick-and-roll performs when the offense stagnated. Maybe counting on a bench that was excessive on scoring however low on protection was a mistake. Maybe Patrick Beverley ought to have stopped attempting to be such a pest on protection that he was continually in foul hassle. Maybe George’s streaky offensive recreation wanted to be smoothed out. Possibly Leonard’s unbelievable shotmaking abilities made him much less liable to be a playmaker for teammates underneath playoff strain.
These are all affordable and contributing components to what occurred. However the Clippers had been prudently constructed to have the ability to modify to any opponent. They will play large, they’ll play small, they’ll play quick, they’ll play gradual, they’ll put out a capturing lineup or a rebounding lineup. They need to have, in idea, survived any of those points.
Leonard has two rings that show that. And this is one for his ideas as he tries to get some offseason sleep: Had he stayed in Toronto, he virtually actually would have been nearer to ring No. 3.
That is going to be a bitter offseason, however not one which rival executives anticipate will deliver big change. The Clippers will doubtless attempt to re-sign free brokers Harrell, Morris and JaMychal Inexperienced (if he opts out).
With that George commerce, they’re in deep now and so they want all of the supporting characters they’ll hold; if to not completely run it again, then to no less than retain the chance for trades. If they’re prepared to tackle long-term cash in an unsure monetary and wage cap panorama, league sources imagine the Clippers may cobble collectively some gamers on their roster to execute a commerce to usher in extra expertise.
Their proprietor’s price is at present north of $70 billion, and Steve Ballmer is not more likely to specific concern concerning the luxurious tax.
As exhausting as it’s to imagine, regardless of having two of the three highest finishers within the Sixth Man of the 12 months voting with Harrell and Williams, the Clippers would possibly must revamp their bench — and people contracts would possibly assist.
As one rival govt stated: “You have heard of the saying, ‘In for a dime, in for a greenback?’ Properly, they’re in for 95 cents, in for a greenback.”
The poker reference is an efficient one. You possibly can debate whether or not L.A. simply had a pair of aces cracked on the river card by the Nuggets or if their hand was only a combo draw that missed. Nevertheless it is labeled, it was the proper transfer. The one true choice is to climate the loss and attempt to play the hand once more in hopes the percentages even out with the workforce the Clippers have put collectively.
That’s what pot-committed seems like. The reward was speculated to be an excellent window of title rivalry that might make irrelevant Leonard’s choice to not signal for the utmost 4 years in the summertime of 2019.
However when the mud settled on that midsummer coup, the truth was that the Clippers secured solely two years. Now the primary 12 months has been squandered.
As dizzying as this is likely to be to grasp, the clock has began ticking.