It’s usually hard to question a team’s future when they’re in Year 1 of a contention window opening and they fall short of expectations.
After all, it took a few years for the Denver Nuggets to reach the Western Conference Finals as they slowly built a contender.
But the Los Angeles Clippers — who blew a 3-1 lead to those Nuggets and who were rightfully roasted for it by everyone including Damian Lillard — aren’t built like every other team.
And after just one year and this awful loss, their future is very much up in the air.
It starts, of course, with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Their contracts are mostly identical after Leonard signed and the franchise mortgaged a whole bunch of first-round draft picks, Danilo Gallinari and a budding star in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to get George: they now have one year left with a player option for 2021-22.
George struggled with his shot throughout the postseason, with his “Playoff P” nickname getting changed by fans to something more insulting. The pair in general disappeared in the fourth quarter. There’s a chance of finger-pointing behind the scenes.
If they’re unhappy with each other or with the direction of the franchise, they hold all the cards. They can refuse to sign extensions and ride out the final year, and if the chemistry problems they spoke about after the Game 7 loss are still there, the Clips could think about blowing it all up instead of losing both for nothing.
I’ve seen a lot of tweets about Doc Rivers and his history of blowing huge leads, and speculating about his job makes sense when we think about how the Raptors firing Dwane Casey and hiring Nick Nurse ended up in a title.
And then there’s the rest of the roster. Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell is a free agent who will get a massive raise wherever he signs. Marcus Morris — who the Clips dealt a 2020 first-rounder for — will hit the market. JaMychal Green could decline his player option. I don’t think ownership would mind hitting the luxury tax to keep this team together, mostly because there’s really no other option after giving up so many picks.
You have to keep the superstars happy and focused on building off such an embarrassing loss. Otherwise, the window is going to shut quickly, with the league’s best two-way player and George — who proved two seasons ago he was among the best on both ends of the court — bailing.
The Clippers will have to start all over again, just a couple of years after a summer NBA teams could only dream of. Instead, the franchise faces a nightmare just one year in.