The Los Angeles Clippers' loss to the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Western Conference semifinals was an enormous disappointment on its own. But there may be deeper issues brewing off the court as well.
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, there was a disconnect between Paul George and his teammates by the end of the season:
"For his part, George had a disappointing series against Denver, and had several moments that left him in compromising positions with his teammates—beyond just his production. Multiple teammates had verbal spats with George throughout the postseason, citing in their exchanges a lack of accountability from him.
"In the postgame locker room Tuesday night, George was preaching to teammates to remain committed, for all the players to return to the team this offseason and stay ready to make another run. It was met by some eye rolls and bewilderment, sources said, because George did not back up his words with action in the series and the team has multiple free agents with decisions to make. George scored 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting and 2-of-11 from 3-point range in the Game 7 defeat."
George was up-and-down in the postseason in general, averaging 20.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists while shooting just 39.8 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three.
Those aren't terrible numbers by any stretch, but they also aren't "we gave up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, three first-round picks, two first-round choices and two first-round pick swaps to bring you aboard as the second superstar Kawhi Leonard demanded as a condition of signing here" numbers.
Because George is billed as a star, he's going to be scapegoated to a degree. That comes with the territory. It is fair to point out that he wasn't the only issue at play, however.
Head coach Doc Rivers blamed a lack of cohesion, per Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:
"You could just see the difference in the two teams; they've been together and we haven't. We didn't meet [expectations]. That's the bottom line. I'm the coach and I'll take any blame for it. If we had [met expectations] in my opinion, we'd still be playing. And although our numbers said we were a good defensive team, I don't think we realized that part of our game at all.
"It was hard to watch because I've got a good group of guys, I really do. Obviously, I could have done something more. I always think it's me, no matter what. I'll look at this and try to figure it out. But it's very disappointing."
Guard Lou Williams called it a lack of chemistry:
"We understood that this was going to take some time. A lot of the issues that we ran into, talent bailed us out, chemistry didn't. In this series, it failed us. This is our first year together. We're a highly talented group and we came up short.
"Chemistry is something you've got to build, and I thought we were moving in the right direction at the end of the year before the COVID thing happened."
And perhaps a team that had multiple players join the bubble late for various reasons never quite got back into game shape:
It was more than just George. No matter how you slice it, it wasn't good enough. But the 30-year-old wasn't good enough, either, and the Clippers' future is tied to him and Leonard living up to expectations and leading them to a title.
Anything less, and the Clippers gave up years of valuable draft assets for nothing.