Is this the year for the Clippers?

With the playoffs beginning, there are many questions circulating around the Los Angeles Clippers and if they are legitimate contenders for a title this year. While many say that this is a championship or bust year for the Clippers, others argue that they have no chance against teams such as the Los Angeles Lakers and the newly-formed superteam Brooklyn Nets.

Last season, the Clippers had one of the worst collapses in NBA history. They had tremendously high expectations after a busy offseason in which they acquired star players Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. It was expected that they and the Lakers would compete in the Western Conference Finals for a battle of the Western Conference. Instead, they ended up surrendering a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the second round and did not even advance to the Western Conference Finals. 

This loss made them the laughingstock of the league and they were bashed and ridiculed all over the sports world and the internet. This collapse pressured the Clippers to make changes to their team in desperation to win a championship the next season. Head coach Doc Rivers was fired and assistant coach Tyronn Lue was promoted. While the Clippers lost two core players in Montrezl Harrell and JaMychal Green during free agency, they acquired Luke Kennard as well as re-signing Marcus Morris Senior and Reggie Jackson.

After slight changes in the offseason and a new desperation to make it to the finals, the Clippers had that as their only goal for the 2020-21 season. The pressure was at its peak this year after the collapse in the playoffs particularly on Paul George who had a miserable playoff performance and earned himself the nickname ‘Pandemic P’ as a reference to the ongoing pandemic and his poor performance. Many were skeptical of the Clippers, saying that their regular season performance would not matter as long as they were unable to perform in the playoffs. And so the season began.

And although the Clippers have been playing very well throughout the season with a record of 46-23, they have struggled with health throughout and the haters emphasize this as a reason why the Clippers are not legitimate championship contenders. Starting point guard Patrick Beverley has missed a majority of the season due to continual injuries.

 However, while many thought losing Beverley would be a big blow, his replacement Reggie Jackson has played amazing throughout the season and saved the Clippers countless times as the starting point guard. The same can be said for the center position, as starting center Serge Ibaka has missed nearly 2 months with a back injury, but his replacement Ivica Zubac has played extremely well as a starter. 

The Clippers have demonstrated that they have endless depth off their bench and this will be a big factor in the playoffs, as they need these contributions from players like Jackson and Zubac to take them over the top. The Clippers also traded 3-time sixth man of the year Lou Williams for Rajon Rondo, who has won two championships and is expected to help them in the playoffs with his experience. 

The other mid-season acquisition the Clippers made was signing former all-star DeMarcus Cousins to a 10-day contract; however, he seems to be on the track to being with the team throughout the playoffs as he has contributed well off the bench. As for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, they have both suffered injuries and missed time throughout the season but the other players have stepped up big in their absence, which has helped the Clippers build up their team chemistry.

At this point, the Clippers have proven that they are a successful regular season team and should have enough depth to be able to take them all the way. As the season winds down the Clippers have been resting Leonard and George more to keep them fresh and injury-free for the playoffs. This, combined with how well the rest of the team has played, should give the Clippers the talent level and ability to go far. 

The only question left is if they can keep up their success in the playoffs and not choke like they did last year. Leonard’s contract expires this coming offseason, and it is rumored that if the Clippers fall short again he will leave for another team to win a championship, which would likely knock the Clippers out of serious championship contention for a few years. This only makes this year’s playoff run all the more important, and it will be very fun to see if they can prove that they have the ability to compete with teams like the Lakers and Nets for a championship.