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NBA Playoffs: Clipped Again

LA Story: Another Early Postseason Exit

Injuries to Leonard, George Doom Clippers

It nearly seems like clockwork every season, but the Los Angeles Clippers have seen their 2022-23 season fall short of the team’s goal. A lot factored into that, including a season-long adventure with load management for the team’s stars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who both dealt with devastating late-season injuries.

The result was a five-game loss to the Phoenix Suns in the opening round of the postseason.

NBA Playoffs: Clipped Again
Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers | Christian Petersen/Getty Images/AFP

Healthy, this Clippers roster is good enough to have one of the best NBA Finals odds, but that seems almost impossible. George started the playoffs on the bench with a knee injury amid speculation of him possibly returning in the second round. Leonard made NBA news right before Game 3 against the Phoenix Suns that he was out due to an injury that has now been revealed to be an MCL tear he suffered in Game 1.

Without Leonard and George, the Clippers were no match for the Suns, despite remaking the roster at the trade deadline and adding a third star with Russell Westbrook through the buyout market. It was apparent how much this team needed its stars in every game. The Clippers would be within striking distance late, but didn’t have a player that could go bucket-for-bucket with the Suns in the game’s final minutes.

History of Leonard and George

The saga of Leonard’s 2019 free agency was crazy. He had just won the NBA Finals, picking up his second Finals MVP with the Toronto Raptors. It was clear he wanted to return to his home city of Los Angeles, but the question was if Leonard would join the Lakers or Clippers.

When Leonard chose the Clippers, in the dead of night, the team immediately handed the Oklahoma City Thunder a massive trade package to acquire George.

The Clippers arguably became the best team in the league overnight, having a super team favored by most NBA title odds. However, that is when the load management would start, with neither Leonard (57) nor George (48) playing over 60 games. That would lead to a lack of camaraderie in the playoffs, blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the 2019-20 Western Conference semifinals. The COVID-19 pandemic and the NBA bubble definitely could have also played a role in the collapse.

All signs pointed to the 2020-21 season as the one when the Clippers will make an NBA Finals run. Once again, many people were going with them for NBA picks to win the Finals, and it looked possible. They finished fourth in the West despite neither Leonard (52) or George (54) playing over 60 games. However, Leonard tore his ACL in the second round of the playoffs. The Clippers still managed to make it to Game 6 in the Western finals, losing to the Suns, but it was clear they didn’t have enough without Leonard.

With Leonard missing the entire 2021-22 season due to his ACL recovery, the Clippers would miss the playoffs, losing twice in the play-in tournament. That has caught us up to the present, where Leonard was again injured in the playoffs, leading the Clippers to fall short of the franchise’s goal for the fourth straight season.

What is Next for Clippers

With the Los Angeles Clippers’ season now over, it is time for early, drastic NBA predictions for this team. Given the recent track record of the pairing of Leonard and George, it is easy to conclude that the organization should move on. Neither has been able to stay healthy and, with them being such a massive cap hit, there is no other way to bolster the rest of the roster.

All that is true, but injuries are hard to manage. It is fair to blame the Clippers’ struggles over the last four years on load management and a lack of taking the regular season seriously. However, putting it all on something a player can’t control is harsh. Former Clipper JJ Redick possibly made the best rebuttal to people who think the franchise should move on from its stars.

The fact is that injuries are part of the NBA. Maybe the Clippers have chosen the worst possible path, leaning heavily on load management, which could play a role in these injuries. On top of that, the Clippers are opening a new stadium in 2024-25, and a rebuilding team have issues drawing fans, especially in a city like Los Angeles with the Lakers having a much bigger fan base.

There is no logical next step for the Clippers other than to try again and hope that Leonard and George can stay healthy. The Las Vegas NBA odds have consistently backed this team, tending to lean on the side that if the stars are healthy, the Clippers are one of the best teams in the West.

We might see a massive overhaul of the coaching staff and front office. While Tyronn Lue is often seen to be one of the top coaches in the league, it is possible this locker room needs a new voice. He has been given a raw deal, especially with injuries and dealing with load management. But, in theory, he has been given most of the tools to find success. The Clippers can’t move on from their stars, which means the people around them could change.

So far, this pairing has not worked, but injuries have brought the team down outside of the 2019-20 playoffs. Only in the bubble did the team fail while healthy. While injuries can’t be helped, the lack of success shows the Clippers have not gotten what they want from this All-NBA-caliber pairing.

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