The LA Clippers finally lost a war of attrition to the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals.
Now that seasons are coming to an end, it is time to write the obituary for the 2020-2021 seasons that were. Looking back on each team that made the playoffs will give a chance to look at what went right and what went wrong. It will also allow us to look ahead to what’s to come during the offseason to come.
After an unexpected run for a number of players, the LA Clippers are out of the playoffs. Was this enough to secure them as a contender of the future?
When it was announced the Kawhi Leonard would be out for an indefinite amount of time in the second round it was easy to write off the Clippers. He was their best player and most reliable playoff performer. Then came a run for Paul George, Reggie Jackson and Terance Mann that pushed the team into their first-ever Conference Finals.
Let’s start with the postseason because the NBA playoffs were always where the story was going to be written for the Clippers. They fell into 0-2 holes in both the first and second round after tanking games at the end of the season to pick their path through the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz. First-year coach Ty Lue consistently found a way to push the right buttons to unlock the potential of the Clippers that had been promised more than a year ago when Paul George and Kawhi Leonard joined forces.
Before his injury, Leonard was on a fantastic run. Over 11 games he averaged 30.4 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.1 steals while hitting 57.3 percent of his field-goal attempts. The oft-mocked George stepped up as well. He averaged 26.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.0 steal on shooting splits of .441/.336/.844.
Injuries marred this postseason and the Clippers were not exempt. We still do not know the full extent of Leonard’s injury. Serge Ibaka went out with an injury after two postseason games and has since undergone back surgery. Ivica Zubac missed the last two games of the Conference Finals with a knee injury.
This was a positive season for the Clippers. Reggie Jackson was one of the most memorable reclamation projects of the playoffs (17.8 points on shooting splits of .484/.408/.878) after Nicolas Batum was something similar in the regular season. Paul George quieted many of the whispers that have plagued him for years. Lue has emerged again as one of the best coaches in the league. And yet, change may still be on the horizon.
What comes next for the LA Clippers
As if the case with any Kawhi Leonard squad, the immediate future is murky. The full extent of his knee injury has not been released, leaving his status for next season in question. Beyond that, he has a player option for next year and predicting the choices he will make is an NBA fan’s fool’s errand. He is not the only potential free agent to worry about.
Patrick Patterson, Nic Batum, Reggie Jackson and DeMarcus Cousins are all pending free agents going into the offseason. Batum and Jackson certainly earned themselves noticeable raises after playing on the veteran minimum this season. The Clippers have limited resources to provide that since they have roughly $103 million committed to Leonard, George, Marcus Morris Sr. and Luke Kennard. Ibaka has a $9.7 million player option that is almost guaranteed to be picked up given the aforementioned back surgery he is recovering from.
If the LA Clippers look mostly the same next season, they will enter the year as one of the favorites to win it all. Leonard and George are still two of the elite wings in the league. Terance Mann showed flashes of a dynamic player going forward. Lue clearly gets the most out of his team, and his 10-3 record in elimination games is telling. But the steps taken during the offseason will be crucial.