A team that came in with so many expectations never got a chance to see it come to pass. That was the 2022-23 Los Angeles Clippers. A team that was picked by some to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals had owner Steve Ballmer fired up before the season got started with all the talent and the depth of his team heading into the season.
But his team had a tumultuous season from the beginning, and it eventually caught up with them as they were bounced in the first round in five games by the Phoenix Suns. The injuries to their two best players Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have plagued this team the past two seasons prior to this season and this time unfortunately, was no different. Their season ended once again with one or both of them injured, citing a “here we go again” moment around the organization.
Coming into the season led by championship head coach Ty Lue, this team, with all the requisite pieces, was primed to make another crack at a championship run. Even as good a coach in Lue, he couldn’t overcome the injuries to his two stars. When both were available to play during the regular season they had a 24-14 record, so there was a lot of optimism surrounding this team.
They continued to control the series against their cross-town rivals Los Angeles Lakers, sweeping the season series yet again (4-0) and making it 11 straight wins against them under Ty Lue since he took over as head coach back in the 2020-21 season.
Aside from this, none of that matters. The Lakers found themselves in the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets. As a team coming out of the play-in game, they had a better chance to go to the Finals, while the Clippers are at home after a first round exit.
The Clippers had a 4-game losing streak at least three different times this season under coach Lue for the first time in his Clippers tenure so they tried to tried to upgrade at the trade deadline adding former Laker Russell Westbrook, Bones Hyland, Eric Gordon, and Mason Plumlee. It wasn’t enough because during the playoffs, teams need their best players available, and LA just didn’t have that.
Westbrook was huge for this team, especially in the first round of the playoffs against Phoenix. The former MVP averaged 23.6 points and 7.9 assists in those five games. Coach Lue said after his team was able to steal Game 1 in Phoenix that “he [Westbrook] brings us way more than scoring than basketball.”
With Russ in the final year of his contract he signed back in 2017 with the team that drafted him back in 2008 (Oklahoma City Thunder), the Clippers will have a decision to make if they want to try and retain him.
The Clippers finished 18th during the regular season in scoring (113.6/ppg). Even with the inconsistencies from their two best players, they still had a decent year on offense.
Coach Lue was able to get the best out of the “others” when George & Leonard weren’t available. Before Leonard got injured in the first round vs Phoenix, he looked to have regained his playoff form averaging 34.5/ppg in the two games he played after missing the entire 2021-22 season after partially tearing his right ACL in the first round of the playoffs against the Denver Nuggets. Injuries, unfortunately, have not allowed him to finish his last two playoff appearances.
— Chrystopher Henderson 🏀 (@ChrysNBA) March 24, 2023
On the defensive end, the Clippers were affected all season with the absence of their two best players. Yes, they were in the top half of the league in defensive ratings (12th overall 113.1), but it was a struggle all season.
Coach Lue was frustrated by the lack of consistency. Whether it was rotations, guarding the point of attack, or simple things like putting a body on the opposing players to grab defensive rebounds. In their first-round matchup against Phoenix, All-Star Devin Booker spoke about the respect and the different looks and how coach Lue showed him something defensively, “he’s never seen before.”
With all the uncertainty surrounding this team, they were able to stay consistent on that end of the floor. It wasn’t anything new to those around this organization because they have been in the top half on defense the past several seasons and as high as fourth in points allowed during the 2020-21 season. The consistency on defense under Ty Lue has been no surprise to anyone. If any player wanted to see the floor for him it’s mandatory they gave him 100% effort on the defensive end.
Overall Grade: A-
This team had a lot of depth when the season started, and coach Lue had different players he could count on on any given night, but eventually it seemed their age started to show. Coach Lue spoke about it during the second half of the season, “were not a movement team, were the oldest team in the league playing.” They had seven players over the age of 31 playing significant minutes including Leonard and George and younger and more athletic teams took advantage of that.
Players the likes of Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris Sr, Eric Gordon, and Mason Plumlee all were counted on to make contributions and play with high level energy. They just couldn’t hold up over the course of the season and playoffs.
After all that they still finished 5th in Western Conference standings (44-38) capping off their 12th straight winning season dating back to the 2011-12 season.
After being eliminated by Phoenix, Coach Lue said “It’s just been our luck the last three year’s (injuries to George and Leonard)” with his team’s chances to win a championship.
Coach Lue might have had his most difficult job as a head coach in his four seasons as Clippers coach, but he wouldn’t make any excuses. His team took on his personality and they competed night in & night out, regardless who was available.
Not a lot of teams would be in this position with everything Lue has endured.
Running It Back
Aside from their shortcomings, the team will continue to build around George and Leonard. “Kawhi’s a ceiling raiser,” President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank said in media availability after the conclusion to the season. “When you study past NBA champions, they have a top-five guy on their team, and Kawhi has shown that when healthy he can be the best player in the world. Paul is an eight-time All-Star now. So we’re going to continue to build around those guys and look for every which way [to improve around them].”
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said on his show “First Take” the morning after the Clippers were eliminated, that “Steve Ballmer and the Los Angeles Clippers should force Kawhi Leonard to retire.” He, along with many Clipper fans, are frustrated with the lack of his availability.
George only played in 56 games this season, and was held out of the entire playoffs due to sprained right knee he suffered on March 21st vs his former team the Oklahoma City Thunder. Will his ability to be counted on late in this season also be a problem for this franchise moving forward?
The Clippers are preparing to play in a new arena in Inglewood, CA next season to get from under the Lakers shadow. Called “INTUIT DOME,” it will be the first time the Clippers will have their own arena in the city of Los Angeles.
The main focus should be the health of their two stars. that will be a huge reason why fans in a city that already has a team that has won 17 championships to cheer for, and LA’s little brother still hasn’t made it to an NBA Finals in franchise history. If PG and Kawhi aren’t playing consistently like they’ve been over the past few seasons, then everything else built around them won’t even matter.
Chrystopher Henderson is a contributor for Back Sports Page. Chrystopher has been an NBA beat writer directly covering the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Sparks for over three years. Basketball is his passion and he enjoys the challenges of this industry and enjoys learning each and everyday. Chrystopher is a single father and his daughter is his life and she inspires him to “be the best at whatever it is he does for basketball!” You can follow him on his Twitter @ChrysNBA
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