One of the biggest disappointments in NBA history?
After acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the 2019 offseason, the Los Angeles Clippers were expected to compete for the 2020 NBA championship. Despite those expectations, the Clippers got eliminated in the second round of last season's playoffs by the Denver Nuggets. Now, it is possible that the Clippers will lose their current first round matchup against the Dallas Mavericks.
The Clippers expectedly eliminated the Mavericks in the first round last season. That series was Luka Dončić’s first-ever experience in the NBA playoffs. Additionally, Kristaps Porzingis, the Mavericks second best player, missed the final three games of the series. Despite those two things, the Mavericks still pushed the Clippers to six games. The two teams are meeting in the first round of the playoffs for the second year in a row and the Mavericks currently have a 1-0 series lead. If the Clippers lose tonight’s game two matchup, they would have to win four of the next five games in order to win the series, which would definitely be a tough hill to climb.
With a first round elimination, the Clippers would have just one playoff series win over the past two seasons. Given the expectations the team had after they acquired Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, they would be one of the biggest disappointments in NBA history. The Clippers went 48-34 in the 2018-2019 NBA season and pushed the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors to six games in the first round of the playoffs. After that season, they acquired Kawhi Leonard, who averaged 26 points, seven rebounds, and three assists per game while shooting 49 percent from the field, 37 percent from three, and 85 percent from the free-throw line during the 2018-2019 regular season. The former San Diego State Aztec was coming off of a postseason where he averaged 30 points, nine rebounds, and 4 assists per game while shooting 49 percent from the field, 38 percent from three, and 88 percent from the free-throw line. After helping the Toronto Raptors win their first-ever NBA championship, Kawhi Leonard deserved to be looked at as the best player in the world.
Leonard wasn’t the only important piece the Clippers added during the 2019 offseason. They acquired Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, and five first-round picks. George finished 3rd in MVP voting during the 2018-2019 season. It was perfectly reasonable to expect a team that had just won 48 games with those acquisitions to win an NBA championship.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George weren’t the only things that got people excited about the Clippers. The team led the entire league in bench points per game during the 2019-2020 season. Additionally, the Clippers made a key move before the 2020 NBA trade deadline by acquiring Marcus Morris Sr. from the New York Knicks. In 43 games with the Knicks, Morris averaged 19 points and five rebounds per game while shooting 44 percent from the field, 44 percent from three, and 82 percent from the line. With all of these pieces, the Clippers were amongst the favorites to win the 2020 NBA championship.
With a 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets, it looked as if the Clippers were going to face off against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. However, the Nuggets won games five and six against the Clippers to force a game seven. In the series-deciding game, the Clippers' two big additions the prior offseason shrunk when it mattered the most. George recorded 10 points, four rebounds, and two assists while shooting just 4-16 from the field. Leonard recorded 14 points, six rebounds, and six assists while shooting just 6-22 from the field. The Nuggets won by a final score of 104-89 which ended the Clippers season.
Despite Leonard missing 20 games and George missing 18 games, the Clippers finished the 2020-2021 regular season with a 47-25 record. With Leonard and George, the Clippers should be amongst the best teams in the Western Conference. However, with a loss tonight, the Clippers would be down 2-0 against the Dallas Mavericks and would be in grave danger of losing in the first round. An early playoff exit could have long-term ramifications. Leonard has the option to be a free agent this upcoming offseason. Would the two-time finals MVP stay with the Clippers after they failed to live up to expectations in both of his seasons with the team? We also can’t forget that it will be harder for the Clippers to improve their roster since they traded five first-round picks for Paul George. The team also gave up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The 22-year-old averaged 23 points, six assists, and five rebounds while shooting 51 percent from the field, 42 percent from three, and 81 percent from the free-throw line this season. Leonard might leave the Clippers in the offseason and as of right now, it’s clear that the Oklahoma City Thunder got the better end of the Paul George trade.
If they lose in the first round, the Clippers would have just one playoff series win over the past two seasons. The Clippers might get eliminated by the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, who possess Lebron James and Anthony Davis. Or, the Clippers might get eliminated in the NBA Finals by the Brooklyn Nets, who possess Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. Those results might be disappointing for the Clippers, but at least they’d be losing to teams that are title contenders. Last season, the Clippers got eliminated by the Denver Nuggets, who barely got past the first round against the 6th seeded Utah Jazz. This season, it's possible that the Clippers might get eliminated by the Dallas Mavericks, who haven’t won a playoff series since 2011. The Clippers have not lived up to expectations since acquiring Leonard and George. Given the hype that surrounded the Clippers, they might go down as one of the biggest disappointments in NBA history.