Home NBA Los Angeles Clippers at the Crossroads as Star Power Fades

Los Angeles Clippers at the Crossroads as Star Power Fades

Photo by Marius Christensen on Unsplash

With a roster comprising superstar talents such as Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, the Los Angeles Clippers were fancied to win the NBA title.

However, they largely failed to live up to expectations despite showing glimpses of title-winning form in the middle of the season.

Read on as we look at the Clippers’ 2023/24 campaign, before assessing the issues they need to address if they are to challenge for the title next term.

Clippers Fall Short Again

Leonard and George started the season in dominant form, leading the team to victory over the Portland Trailblazers before suffering a setback against Utah Jazz.

However, the Clippers responded well, claiming an impressive 128-83 win over San Antonio Spurs before seeing off Orlando Magic.

They then lost six successive games when Harden joined the team. He debuted against the New York Knicks in early November, recording 17 points and six assists in 31 minutes, but they lost 111-97.

The Clippers also suffered losses to the Brooklyn Nets, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets.

But things soon began to look up. They ended their losing streak against the Houston Rockets in mid-November before successive wins against the Spurs.

Leonard began to find his groove – the sort of MVP form he used to drag the Toronto Raptors to their only ever Eastern Conference title and NBA Championship in 2019.

Smooth operator George was also beginning to strut his stuff as they became one of the most dominant teams, going on a nine-game winning streak in December.

The Clippers looked like legitimate championship contenders in the middle of the season, going on a 26-5 streak between December and early February.

They made a statement of intent when they beat Boston Celtics 115-96 on their home court, with Leonard recording 26 points, two assists and seven rebounds

However, after agreeing to a three-year, $150 million extension, Leonard suffered an adductor injury that saw him miss almost a month of action. Other niggling problems hindered him in the play-offs.

Leonard is the Clippers’ key man, and his injuries played a massive role in their underperformance in the latter part of the season.

His injury problems coincided with a major dip in form for Harden. The 34-year-old averaged 13.5 points in the final 19 games of the regular season while shooting 36.4% from the floor.

After several below par performances, his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Westbrook was relegated to a bench role.

George, who has had his own injury battles, was left to carry the team with a helping hand from big man Ivica Zubac.

They finished fourth in the Western Conference, setting up a clash with the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the play-offs.

Despite Harden and George having a stellar series, the Mavs’ star duo Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic were too much for them and claimed a 4-2 series win.

Ageing Stars, Off-Season & NBA Draft Decisions

The Clippers must make some crucial decisions this summer. Harden will be 35 by the start of next season, and the Clippers must consider whether they want him on their roster.

George’s situation is equally murky. After Leonard’s contract extension in January, most people anticipated a new deal for George would follow, but negotiations haven’t materialised. He holds a $48.7 million player option for next season.

Assuming Harden and George stay, the Clippers desperately need younger talent for their bench. Westbrook has been underwhelming even as the sixth man, while Bones Hyland hasn’t done enough to convince the Clippers.

The Clippers have only a single second-round draft pick this year and should use it to sign an immediate contributor such as Colorado point guard KJ Simpson.

They could also select a younger player with long-term potential such as Trentyn Flowers (Adelaide 36ers, NBL) or AJ Johnson (Illawarra Hawks, NBL).

There may also be some changes in the coaching department ahead of next season, with the Clippers assistant coach Jay Larranaga a wanted man across the league.

The former Ireland men’s national basketball team coach has had interviews with the Knicks and Charlotte Hornets. He could be on the move after three years as an assistant.

This news has Irish bettors excited, with some online platforms offering enticing free bets no deposit in Ireland offers to punters who wager on the NBA.

Losing Larranaga would be a blow to the Clippers and would potentially result in their odds to win the NBA title lengthening if he exits the club.

Regardless of what happens with the ex-Irish chief, the Clippers will head into the 2024/25 campaign with the weight of expectation on their shoulders.

Head coach Tyronn Lue brought the Cleveland Cavaliers their first and only NBA title and is under pressure to repeat that feat in Los Angeles.

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