Analyst Reveals Clippers With Most To Prove In 2024 Playoffs

Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Paul George, Clippers, NBA
Feb 23, 2024; Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2), forward Paul George (13), center Ivica Zubac (40) and guard James Harden (1) walk to the bench during a time out during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023-24 NBA season has been a bit of a roller coaster ride for the Los Angeles Clippers. They got out of the gate slowly as the team was getting acclimated to having James Harden in the mix after a blockbuster trade was completed with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Once everyone got settled into roles and a hierarchy was established, the Clippers flourished. For weeks, they looked like one of the best teams in the NBA, climbing the Western Conference standings and being near the top.

However, in the last few weeks, they have hit another valley. The team has not been playing very well, which has led to some harsh comments from head coach Tyronn Lue about the team’s identity.

There may not be a team in the NBA that has more to prove than the Clippers heading into the postseason. Players on the team, such as Harden, also have something to prove individually in the opinion of ESPN’s insider, Brian Windhorst.

NBA NEWS & SCORES: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden, Los Angeles Clippers Updates

“Harden is no longer the best player on his team and hasn’t been for years. His playoff track record is scattered with underachievement, but he can still be a difference-maker at 34 years old, and that is the central tenet of his case for a huge new contract with the Clippers this summer. The 76ers didn’t believe he could be that player, and it showed in their negotiations last year. Harden’s performance this spring will likely affect how the Clippers handle talks this offseason,” wrote Windhorst.

Given his age and lack of success to this point in his postseason career, the next few weeks are big for Harden. He needs to shake the reputation he has garnered and the easiest way to accomplish that is by winning.

Not the MVP-caliber player he once was, Harden is still capable of some major outbursts production-wise. As a third option, he is as dangerous as any player in the NBA. But, he isn’t the only player facing pressure heading into the postseason, as Kawhi Leonard also landed in Windhorst’s list.

“Leonard has two NBA titles, two Finals MVPs and a recently signed $152 million extension. He will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He also has a single playoff series victory since he came to the Clippers, and the organization has structured nearly everything around him. His past five years have been a complete letdown, often — but not always — due to injuries. There’s a lot left on the table for him and his franchise,” Windhorst wrote.

Leonard choosing the Clippers as a free agent years ago changed the landscape of the NBA. He wanted to help put them on the map and to a degree, has accomplished that. Los Angeles has had their most successful playoff run with him in the mix, but overall, things have been a bit of a letdown.

NBA NEWS & SCORES: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden, Los Angeles Clippers Updates

As Windhorst noted, the entire franchise has essentially been built around Leonard. That includes the massive trade to acquire Paul George from the Oklahoma City Thunder, whom Leonard chose as the player he wanted to team up with. Like his superstar teammates, George also ended up on Windhorst’s list.

“George is in position to make his seventh All-NBA team behind a strong and healthy year. Despite a wonderful 14-year career, George has never made the Finals and has had scant playoff success with the Clippers. He’s also in a position to be a free agent, and he and the Clippers have been unable to come to terms on an extension after months of talks. The Clippers are no doubt holding the line as they did before inking an extension with Kawhi Leonard to a three-year extension, getting him to take a mild pay cut. George can reframe the entire Clippers offseason if he’s able to finally elevate them in the playoffs,” wrote Windhorst.

George’s NBA future could depend on how this postseason turns out. If the Clippers are successful, those negotiations that haven’t gotten anywhere could turn fruitful as the relationship will want to be extended. If they fall short, changes will be on the horizon.

Seeing George leave in free agency could be the major change. Leonard’s extension led many people to believe that George would receive a matching one, but that hasn’t been the case. It could signal a change being on the horizon if playoff victories aren’t stacked up this year.

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