Unlike the previous season, the Los Angeles Clippers put up a better fight in 2020-21. They took a good Phoenix Suns team to six games without their best player, Kawhi Leonard. However, Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns were too much to handle. Still, we should commend the Clippers for a memorable playoff run as they became the only team in NBA history to win two series after trailing 0-2.
Despite last season’s postseason collapse, the Clippers still entered the season as one of the favorites to win it all. Leonard and Paul George had a year under their belt. The Clippers made key additions in Serge Ibaka and Rajon Rondo to help in their title run. Now, it was time for the Clippers to win it all. They finished fourth in the West and went seven games with the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. They went down 0-2 in that series, fell 0-2 against the Utah Jazz in the second round, and did it again against Phoenix in the Western Conference Finals. The Clippers tried to complete a third straight series comeback but fell in Game 6.
Team Award Winners
Most Valuable Player: Kawhi Leonard
Paul George had a phenomenal playoff run, but the most valuable player here is Leonard. He guards the opposing team’s best player on one end, then hits clutch shots on the other. He put that on full display against the Mavericks in the first round and we saw how much the Clippers missed him during the series against Phoenix. Leonard is coming off another spectacular season in which he averaged 24.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and a career-high 5.2 assists per game. He also shot 51.2 percent from the field and 39.8 from downtown. Losing him for the playoffs is one thing, but if he leaves in free agency this summer, it will change the whole team’s outlook.
Defensive Player of the Year: Kawhi Leonard
Patrick Beverley always boasts about being the best defender in the league. However, Leonard receives the honor this time around. Selected to the All-NBA Defensive Second team, Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner whose 1.6 steals per game this season tied for fifth-best in the league. He can guard multiple positions on the floor and makes the opposing team’s best player work for every shot. In the playoffs, Leonard demonstrated that ability against Luka Doncic and Donovan Mitchell.
Sixth Man of the Year: Terrance Mann
When called upon, Mann stepped up and came to play. With Leonard absent, Mann put up 39 points in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals to send the Clippers to their first Western Conference finals. Mann showed an ability to get downhill, attack the paint, and create looks for himself and his teammates. It was very needed for a Clippers team playing without their best player.
Most Improved Player: Reggie Jackson
Jackson went from being a bench player to starting in a huge role. He was the Clippers’ third-leading scorer this postseason, averaging 18.1 points per game while making 49.2 percent from the field. He also shot 41.5 percent from beyond the arc. After playing on the veteran minimum this season, Jackson could be due for a huge pay raise next month.
Most Disappointing Player: Demarcus Cousins
There wasn’t a player that immediately came to mind when deciding on this award. Cousins was brought in to fill in the backup center role. While he didn’t play as much, when he was on the floor, he showed he can still be productive on the offensive end.
The biggest question of the offseason starts with Leonard, who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. Should he opt out of his contract, Leonard will have the opportunity to listen to other team’s pitches. There’s still a great chance Leonard stays, though. He can remain home in Los Angeles and play for a team that held its own without him.
No matter what Leonard decides, the Clippers still have work to do. As a luxury tax-paying team, the Clippers won’t have bountiful cap space and can only use the $5.9 million tax-payer mid-level exception.
Nicolas Batum, Ibaka, and Jackson will also be free agents next month. As mentioned already, Jackson could be looking at a bigger deal after his postseason performance. If he leaves, the Clippers will have to search for a replacement, but that could be a challenge. Their best bet may be to explore sign-and-trade options with Leonard’s former teammate, Kyle Lowry. Other teams in the West are getting better; thus, the Clippers need to stay aggressive with their moves. Regardless, this year’s Clippers team showed resiliency. Leonard’s injury just came at the wrong time.
Follow Jacari McRae on Twitter @JMcRae23
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