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NBA playoffs

11: 39 PM ET

  • Brian WindhorstESPN Senior Creator

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    • ESPN.com NBA author since 2010
    • Lined Cleveland Cavs for seven years
    • Author of two books

If the following few months are to be spent examining the future of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, it is handiest dazzling and correct to now dawdle the identical highlight on the LA Clippers.

Or now now not it is stunning that this is the keep the Clippers are after the Denver Nuggets done one more 3-1 comeback, taking Game 7 104-89 and the second-round Western Conference playoff series on Tuesday. This season used to be ticketed to be the Clippers’ ascendancy, now now not a derailment — but issues transfer speedy in the NBA.

After such an odious loss, it want to be identified that the Clippers’ season has been a failure. It want to be reported that stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are one season a long way from having the choice to enter free company.

Any dialogue relating to the Clippers’ protest want to be prefaced with an evidence of those stakes. LA traded a doable franchise cornerstone in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and unprotected first-round picks in 2022, 2024 and 2026 (plus purchase swaps in 2023 and 2025) to the Oklahoma City Mutter for the flexibility to compete for titles with George and Leonard correct now. The Clippers traded away their 2020 first-round purchase for rapidly-to-be free agent Marcus Morris Sr.

They’ve backed their manner into a pinch point. This offseason, the Clippers can supply George a contract extension for as a lot as three years. With all the issues traded, they’re compelled to give it. However George holds the quite a couple of to turn out to be a free agent in 2021 (which capability that of of a player choice) or 2022, and there’s an inexpensive chance that he would possibly well perchance move on a Clippers supply. Leonard has the identical deal.

The keep that would meander away the Clippers sooner than the originate of next season is in merely the identical keep as a host of varied teams, such because the Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks: standing at the precipice, plotting a leap of faith. The Bucks, who maintain taken up location on the cliff’s edge, with Antetokounmpo taking a while sooner than he decides whether or now now not to signal an upcoming contract extension supply, wouldn’t mind the company.

Once that industry is brushed off, many all the map by means of the league think the Clippers will feel the want to originate a top-down analysis of how issues went so a long way off aim from their title-favourite role.

In some instances, such as Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams going into tailspins in the Florida bubble after extended absences which capability that of of deaths in their families and quarantines, there were unexpected circumstances that went in opposition to the team.

However moderately about a the flaws that ate away at the Clippers in the three consecutive losses over the final week were now now not unique.

There are some schematic issues, actually. Presumably coach Doc Rivers did now not exercise enough purchase-and-roll performs when the offense stagnated. Presumably counting on a bench that used to be high on scoring but low on defense used to be a mistake. Presumably Patrick Beverley must maintain stopped making an strive to be one of these pest on defense that he used to be repeatedly in snide pains. Presumably George’s streaky offensive sport desired to be smoothed out. Presumably Leonard’s inconceivable shot-making skills made him less at possibility of be a playmaker for teammates beneath playoff rigidity.

These are all lifelike and contributing components to what came about. However the Clippers were prudently constructed with the plot to alter to any opponent. They might be able to play worthy, they might be able to play minute, they might be able to play like a flash, they might be able to play late, they might be able to build out a taking pictures lineup or a rebounding lineup. They deserve to maintain, in idea, survived any of those issues.

Leonard has two rings to uncover that. And this is one for his solutions as he tries to win some offseason sleep: Had he stayed in Toronto, he nearly actually would were nearer to ring No. 3.

Here’s going to be a bitter offseason — but now now not person that rival executives demand will carry worthy alternate. The Clippers will seemingly strive to re-signal free agents Harrell, Morris and JaMychal Green (if he opts out).

With the George alternate, they’re in deep now, and they need your complete supporting characters they might be able to find — if now now not to completely bustle it relieve, then to a minimal of preserve the likelihood for trades. In the event that they are lively to find on long-time duration money in an risky financial and wage-cap panorama, league sources maintain the Clippers would possibly well perchance cobble collectively some avid gamers on the roster to cease a alternate to carry in more talent.

Their owner’s price is currently north of $70 billion, and Steve Ballmer is now not actually more seemingly to particular protest relating to the luxurious tax.

As laborious as it is to maintain, with their having two of the three absolute best finishers in the Sixth Man of the 365 days voting with Harrell and Williams, the Clippers would possibly well perchance want to revamp their bench — and contributors contracts would possibly well perchance abet.

As one rival govt acknowledged: “You can maintain got heard of the announcing, ‘In for a dime, in for a dollar’? Properly, they’re in for 95 cents, in for a dollar.”

The poker reference is a factual one. You’ll seemingly be in a location to debate whether or now now not LA merely had a pair of aces cracked on the river card by the Nuggets or their hand used to be a combo draw that overlooked. On the quite a couple of hand it is labeled, it used to be the merely transfer. The handiest true choice now is to climate the loss and investigate cross-check to play the hand again in hopes that the percentages even out with the team build collectively.

That’s what pot-committed looks take care of. The reward used to be speculated to be a sexy window of title rivalry that would accumulate inappropriate Leonard’s resolution to now now not signal for the maximum four years in the summertime of 2019.

However when the dirt settled on that midsummer coup, the reality used to be that the Clippers secured handiest two years.

The first year has been squandered.

As dizzying as this is able to be to model, the clock has started ticking.

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