The 2019-20 Los Angeles Clippers were the very definition of a win-now team. They traded virtually all of their draft capital to unite and supplement two superstars, and now do not control their own first-round pick until 2027. Those superstars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, both entered the season in their late-20’s, and both have extensive injury histories. The next three highest-paid players on the team, Marcus Morris, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams, are all in their 30’s. They had a window to win the championship this season. They failed to capitalize on it in losing their second-round series to the Denver Nuggets. There’s no guarantee that window will last any longer.
And yet, in George’s mind, the expectations that came with that pricey roster were unfounded. “I think internally, we always felt this was not a championship-or-bust year for us,” George told reporters after Game 7. Well, they didn’t get the championship, and now, given the precarious state of their roster, this entire experiment might go bust.
George was traded to the Clippers with only two guaranteed seasons left on his contract. Leonard signed a deal to match it. One of those two seasons has now expired. If the Clippers don’t win it all next season, they are in serious jeopardy of losing one or both of the superstars they mortgaged their future for.
And there’s plenty of immediate risk to contend with as well. Marcus Morris and Montrezl Harrell will both be free agents this offseason. The Clippers are so far above the cap that replacing either would be nearly impossible if they decide to leave. Williams will be 34 when next season begins. Beverley will be 32, and has missed at least 10 games in all but one of his NBA seasons. There is no guarantee that the supporting cast will maintain its productivity.
In that sense, every season is championship or bust for a team like the Clippers. When a team exhausts its resources to put a group of expensive veterans together, it can’t afford to punt away seasons due to lack of urgency. You never know how long a window is going to remain open, and for all we know, the Clippers might have just let theirs close before they were ready to go through it.