After failing to advance out of the quarter-finals, it is decision time for the Clippers.

There is no way of sugar-coating how the Los Angeles Clippers season ended Tuesday night. A Clipper team with the reigning Finals MVP, a perennial all-star and two Six Man of the Year award recipients was bounced from the playoffs in the second round.

The expectations were high. The pressure was on. Yet the Clippers, once again, failed to make it to the Western Conference Final. And yes, there are plenty of qualifiers. 

To start, as a complete unit, they played limited games together due to load management. The Clippers had played a total of 18 games with their full roster available coming into Tuesday night’s Game 7. 

The NBA bubble has had daunting effects on player’s mental well-being, with Clippers star Paul Geroge openly expressing how he went to a ‘dark place’ while in the bubble. 

The most important factor, nevertheless, is that the Clippers played a very impressive Denver Nuggets team. 

The Nuggets were the number three seed in the loaded Western Conference. They battled back to overcome a 3-1 deficit against the Utah Jazz to reach the second round. They have a superstar in Nikola Jokic, who was the third big man to record a 20 rebound triple-double in a playoff game since the NBA-ABA merger. And they have a newly arrived star by the name of Jamal Murray, who is now averaging 32.6 ppg when facing elimination in these playoffs.

But, these were the Clippers — a proposed superteam that was regarded as the next team set to dominate the West for years to come. And to continue writing the narrative of the franchise’s playoff woes with these expectations was a devastating blow for coach Doc Rivers and company.

So now the Clippers will have to face a tidal wave of questions. 

The obvious being what comes next? The Clippers’ front office put in a lot of work building this current roster. The acquisition of Paul George alone cost the Clippers two starters, five first-round picks, and two pick swaps. The Clippers traded more first-round picks than George had field goals made in Game 7 (four). 

Leonard has played well most of his postseason career, continuously executing in the biggest moments. In the Denver series, his typical efficiency disappeared. Leonard committed untimely turnovers and failed to score in the fourth quarter on a consistent basis – particularly down the stretch. George was no better. He was extremely inconsistent during this postseason, recording career lows in multiple games throughout the first two rounds.

George and Leonard combined for 24 points in Game 7, with neither scoring a single point in the fourth. The duo had more turnovers than made baskets in the entire second half and was on the floor for much of Denver’s 50-33 run. 

With both George and Leonard’s contracts creating a cap hit of more than $70 million next season, we must wonder how the Clippers will handle their financial situation during this offseason.

Former Sixth Man of the Year, Lou Williams is guaranteed $8 million next year, while stretch four JaMychal Green has a player option this upcoming free agency. Several rotation players such as Reggie Jackson, Montrezl Harrell and Marcus Morris are unrestricted free agents this coming summer. 

The Clippers can very well look to trade Williams, who struggled to find his shot in the bubble. Williams shot a season-low 23 percent from three-point range during the postseason, averaging 12 ppg. Defensively, Williams was a liability on the floor in the Denver series and the Clippers’ first-round matchup against the Dallas Mavericks. During the postseason, the Clippers opponents’ offensive productivity went up 5.6 percent when Williams was on the floor, per Second Spectrum.

Harrell, after missing time due to the death of his grandmother, never seemed to be able to find his rhythm during the postseason. Harrell racked up a plus/minus of -5.2 during the postseason and proved to be too small to handle Jokic down low while also being too slow to get out on the perimeter and defend guards.

The Clippers can free up cap space by letting their free agents walk. Jackson, Morris and Green are rotation players whose specialties can be replaced. Williams and Harrell, on the other hand, are considered a part of the Clippers nucleus. With that said, they were the glaringly flawed portion of that nucleus over the past few months.

That brings us to Doc Rivers.

Coach Rivers has an exceptional track record – coaching the historic 2008 Boston Celtics team – but his track record also shows that he is resistant to making changes in the postseason. 

Rivers was hired by Los Angeles in 2013 and was handed the keys to the organization in 2014, being promoted to president of basketball operations in conjunction with his head coaching duties. Rivers was given a team with the reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford, sharpshooter JJ Reddick, dunking monster De’Andre Jordan, future Hall-of-Famer Chris Paul, and superstar Blake Griffin – all of who were in their prime.

That team failed to make the Conference Finals, even blowing a 3-1 lead to the Houston Rockets in 2015. After four early playoff exits, the front office decided that it was time to move in a new direction. Paul and Griffin were traded. Crawford, Jordan and Reddick all walked out the door during free agency, which left Rivers alone to try and meet expectations with a new roster.

And clearly, that isn’t working out. During his term as the Clippers head coach, Rivers has accumulated a playoff win percentage of .341 going 14-27 in the postseason. 

Rivers is the only coach to lose multiple 3-1 leads in the league’s history and has a track record of losing 3-2 leads – the most notable being in the 2010 Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. Rivers led the seasoned Celtics team to the Finals and had a chance to close the series out in Boston. Instead, the Celtics squandered the opportunity away ultimately losing to the Lakers in LA. Before Game 6 of that series, Laker head coach Phil Jackosn told his team about the Celtics’ inability to hold leads.

“This team has lost more games in the fourth quarter than anybody in the NBA. They know how to lose in the 4th quarter,” said Jackson following Game 5 of that series.

Jackson’s statement was true in 2010 and is true now. The Clippers were up double digits in all three of their close out games in the Nuggets series but allowed Denver to take control in each fourth quarter.

Rivers’ track record speaks for itself in a positive and negative light. One thing that Rivers did not have full control over, which also played a large role in the Clippers defeat, was the theme of load management. It is known that Leonard expects to get rest throughout the season to preserve his body for the playoffs. During free agency, Leonard made that very clear with his suitors, with the Clippers agreeing to the request.

Leonard missed 15 games citing load management. George missed 24 games due to injury and load management. Numerous Clippers missed games during the regular season, either because of injury or rest. Fast forward to the playoffs and the Clippers chemistry and conditioning played a heavy role in their second-round defeat. 

The Clippers played a total of 18 games at full strength. Their lack of availability hampered any chances of the group figuring out each other’s tendencies, as well as getting comfortable with their playbook. More importantly, the Clippers were tired. Load management mixed in with a pandemic forced a four-month shut down that limited the team from being able to get into full game shape.

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated reported that many Clippers players felt tired in the fourth quarter of Game 7, which predictably affected the players’ abilities on the court.

To blame the entire collapse on one person isn’t realistic, but there are pressing factors that each player and coach contributed to this upset.

None of this is easy. The whole logistical side is very complicated for the Clippers front office moving forward. But the fact remains that the Clippers had NBA Finals expectations and fell remarkably short.

The space that the Clippers expect to operate in requires playoff success, and currently the organization is stagnant in reaching that feat. If they want things to go differently, there should be no sugar-coating the fact that a change needs to happen and needs to happen quickly.