The Clippers: Chokers or Champions?

Mar+5%2C+2014%3B+Charlotte%2C+NC%2C+USA%3B+Indiana+Pacers+small+forward+Paul+George+%2824%29+drives+to+the+basket+while+being+defended+by+Charlotte+Bobcats+power+forward+Anthony+Tolliver+%2843%29+during+the+second+half+at+Time+Warner+Cable+Arena.+Bobcats+won+109-87.

Courtesy of Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 5, 2014; Charlotte, NC, USA; Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George (24) drives to the basket while being defended by Charlotte Bobcats power forward Anthony Tolliver (43) during the second half at Time Warner Cable Arena. Bobcats won 109-87.

Theo Ye

As with any popular topic, the NBA scene contains its fair share of controversy. Polarizing stories around players, teams, and the organization as a whole are constantly circulating in the fanbase as well as the analytics scene—for better or for worse. “This team can’t make the playoffs,” “This player is better than that one,” and “This team will win the championship no matter what… lalalala I can’t hear you” are not uncommon tropes in the basketball scene. 

Numerous analysts host banterful talk shows as a way to make headlines with hot takes and bold statements, sometimes more than they actually analyze the game. This can lead to even further controversy as outlandish and reactive narratives are pushed around the fanbase in an attempt to get a reaction from specific fan bases and groups. Unfortunately, stories getting out of hand may be hurting the community more than they help keep a fresh perspective.

This is the case with the controversy surrounding the Los Angeles Clippers as of recent. Last post-season of 2019-2020, the Clippers were heavily favored to face off against their arch-rivals: The Lebron James led Los Angeles Lakers. However, in a downward spiral of disappointment and ridicule, they made a second round exit courtesy of star center Nikola Jokic’s Denver Nuggets. The Clippers generously handed over their 3-1 lead in the playoffs, and the Western Conference Finals took an anticlimactic turn as the Lakers faced off against the Colorado sleeper team for the win and ultimately took the championship, much to the chagrin of Lebron hecklers across the nation.

The backlash that the Clippers faced after their notoriously disappointing performance in the playoffs was not completely undeserved. In fact, the reason that the pressure weighed so heavily on the team was thanks to their two main new acquisitions to the roster: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. These two star players were expected to take the league by storm, and rumblings of an already decided championship were widespread even before the season started. 

Chiefly, Leonard had led the Toronto Raptors to a title in the season before (2018-2019) and, according to Basketball Reference, had posted a stellar average of thirty points, ten rebounds, and four assists (approx.) in the finals against the Golden State Warriors. As for the second star, Paul George was already a well respected and established player, having made a name for himself as a key component of the Indiana Pacers prior to his trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and later, the Clippers. By all accounts, most fans expected the Clippers to have been the ones to meet the Lakers at the summit of the Western Conference. 

The downfall of the 2019-2020 Clippers can be attributed mainly to a factor vital to any viable team: chemistry. Within the roster starring Paul George, Leonard, Patrick Beverly, and Montrezl Harrel, little to no understanding or communication existed during their entire playoff run. They managed to squeeze by Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks by closing out the series 4-2 according to Basketball Reference and proceeded to have their flaws brutally exposed by the Nuggets. So, what has changed for the Clippers?

First of all, the replacement of head coach Doc Rivers with Tyronn Lue brought a fresh dynamic to the team. Even if no significant change can be said to have come out of this move, a clean slate was desperately needed for the morally destitute Clippers. Secondly, their general manager, Michael Winger, made some significant adjustments to the roster. This change came mainly from the newly signed Serge Ibaka, who has already been showing his defensive and offensive prowess as a stretch big.

They have also been showing undeniable improvement in team chemistry, which has helped them rise to the top of the Western Conference as of January. They have been showing up every game and quietly taking the number one spot with a stellar 16-5 win-loss record. Although it’s only the beginning of the season, the Clippers have certainly shown that they used their time in the off-season well to rebuild after their lackluster performance.

As a franchise, the Clippers have something to prove. They have never won an NBA title and have a history of being bounced out of the playoffs before even the Semifinals. With the newly expanded roster’s experience manifesting in their game, the Clippers have established themselves as prime contenders for the 2020-2021 title. If they continue in their current direction, they might dispel the doubts hanging about the franchise and redeem themselves in the eyes of the public while making a solid run at the coveted Championship trophy.