Clippers Game Five

Offseason crisis looms for Clippers after Game Five loss to Dallas

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Game Five saw another Luka Dončić postseason masterpiece. It was also another James Harden Playoff dud. The outcome was an almost knockout blow to the Clippers’ Playoff chances in 2024.

Heading to Dallas, and staring down the barrel of elimination, Los Angeles has again seen their postseason disrupted by Kawhi Leonard’s injury issues. Meanwhile, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Oklahoma City Thunder to a first-round sweep of the New Orleans Pelicans and Paul George is yet to agree a contract extension.

Dealing with a continued knee issue, it’s unclear if Leonard will play again in this series. It’s possible Leonard and George have played their final game together in a Clipper uniform. If so, the most all-in of all-in trades has been a stark disappointment.

Yes, they reached the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, but that came after Leonard tore his ACL.

This would be their second first-round loss of the Leonard-George era. The one time they made it to the second round with their two stars healthy, they blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the bubble.


It looked like a dream pairing in 2019.

Two, two-way wings; a two-time Finals MVP with an excellent second option; a tonne of depth around them. The configuration of the roster has changed multiple times since then. Doc Rivers was replaced by Tyronn Lue. Health has been the most obvious barrier to success for the Clippers, but that has been far from their only issue.

Health Isn’t Their Only Problem

Chemistry was apparently to blame in the bubble. A lack of playmaking has often been an issue. Harden and Russell Westbrook have been acquired to address the point guard issues. Both are a long, long way past their respective primes, with Westbrook going six-for-35 over his last four games. Harden added to his catalogue of postseason nightmares, going two-for-12 on Wednesday.

George, of course, has had his Playoff struggles in the past. He has been hot and cold this time around.

Steve Ballmer, the richest of NBA owners, has continued to spend vast sums on the team. He has been willing to go deep into the luxury tax to maintain depth, and taken full advantage of bird rights to keep hold of rotation players.


The Clippers have the second-highest payroll this season – they have very little show from it, aside from a short window halfway through the regular season when they looked like real title challenges.

Ballmer has been willing to invest like the Clippers are a title contender. They have been far from it. Does his willingness to spend wane after the latest disappointment?

Perhaps it already has. After all, George would have surely signed an extension by now if both parties were in agreement. He will have no shortage of suitors if he makes it to free agency, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic looking like perfect landing spots.

What Next?

If George declines his player option as expected, the Clippers still do not have max cap space. P.J. Tucker, Ivica Zubac, and Terance Mann are owed more than $11 million each next season. Westbrook, Amir Coffey, and Kobe Brown also have guaranteed money.

The Clippers, just like the Sixers, will surely be reluctant to pay Harden what he is likely to demand this offseason. Maybe they let Harden walk and keep George. If so, they gave away a lot for a first-round exit. If they pay both Harden and George, they are going to be facing some hefty penalties for exceeding the salary cap in years to come.

Maybe George has seen enough. He’s about to enter his age-34 season and he’s still performing at an All-Star level. Does he envisage the Clippers competing in a stacked Western Conference? Or would he rather take a chance in the East? Joining Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey must be tempting. The upside of Paolo Banchero, Jalen Suggs, and Franz Wagner would be a fun final act for the former Pacer, too.

Of course, the Clippers could win the next two games and render the last 660 or so words irrelevant. With Leonard unlikely to play, though, the Clippers’ Playoff chances in 2024 are minimal, especially as they’ve got to go on the road for Game Six.

This looks a lot like the end of the Leonard-George era. Even if they stay together, their title window has shut, and they are facing yet another offseason searching for a magic fix, while becoming the latest front office with a Harden conundrum.

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