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The NBA Playoff Losers

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The dust has finally settled. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will indeed meet for a third straight year in the NBA Finals and battle it out in what’s sure to be an epic finale to the series trilogy.

With that being said, there are 14 playoff teams that will be sitting at home frustrated watching these same two go at it once again.

What’s going through the minds of these organizations and players? It could be a range of multiple things: missed opportunities, terrible luck, or failure in general.

As we await the final playoff series and last action of the NBA’s calendar year, let’s take a look at whose stock will likely take a hit because of this postseason.

Toronto Raptors

Coming into their fourth straight playoff appearance under head coach Dwane Casey, the Raptors were hitting their stride at the right time. They closed out the regular season strong by winning 12 of the last 14 games.

Toronto was even doing all of this without its star Kyle Lowry, who missed 21 games due to a wrist injury. He returned on April 5 for four games and just in time for the postseason. The sky looked like the limit for the stronger and hungrier Raptors.

The first-round matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks was a tough one, as it would have been for anybody. Their length and size coupled with how young of a team they are is a matchup nightmare for most in the league. It’s no surprise how far the Raptors were pushed in that series, but the most telling indicator of where they truly are at came in the conference semi-finals against Cleveland.

In four games, maybe Game 3 aside, Toronto was flat-out embarrassed by the Cavaliers. Just like last year, LeBron James and his group routed them at Quicken Loans Arena. Back home there was a bit of heart shown, but the wind was completely taken out of their sails.

This was much more disappointing for the Raptors considering that they had acquired two key pieces at the deadline—Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker—to improve their roster and put up a bigger fight. It was equally perplexing because a better roster on paper for Toronto couldn’t match last year’s Eastern Conference Finals team and at least take the series six games.

As the Raptors head into the off-season, there are major decisions coming for president Masai Ujiri. What exactly is a culture reset and how can that be accomplished? Is Lowry worth bringing back on a max deal at 31 years old? Can this core compete with the Cavaliers when it matters, or will they have to make a splash?

All of these decisions will weigh heavy on Ujiri and the rest of his staff, who just lost their right-hand man and former general manager Jeff Weltman to the Orlando Magic this week.

LaMarcus Aldridge

Was there a more disappointing playoff run than LaMarcus Aldridge?

Halfway through his four-year, $84.1 million contract, it’s apparent that Aldridge has lost his offensive rhythm with the San Antonio Spurs. That reality reared its ugly head in the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors.

As the San Antonio Spurs jumped out to a commanding lead in Game 1 at Oracle Arena, everybody was stunned. Kawhi Leonard looked to be unstoppable and until an unfortunate turn of events, he was absolutely handling Golden State. But with one ankle injury, the entire series changed in an instant.

With Leonard out of the picture, Gregg Popovich had to turn to others to step up. Guys like Jonathon Simmons, who had been playing in the American Basketball League four years ago and was getting his first taste of meaningful playoff basketball, answered the bell. Second-year forward Kyle Anderson took the challenge and fought every minute he was on the floor. Even Davis Bertans, who spent the most of his year as a reserve seeing sporadic playing time, made some contributions.

All of those players put forth the effort, yet Aldridge, a five-time All-Star, couldn’t be depended on? It’s understandable how difficult it is to lose the best player on the roster and be shell-shocked, but he’s been the go-to guy before. There’s no reason for Aldridge to be outplayed by these young guys in the conference finals.

In that series alone against the Warriors, Aldridge had the worst net rating on the team as a -31 per 100 possessions. In the 75 minutes he wasn’t on the court, the Spurs were a net of 8.4 points better on the same scale. Looking at the postseason as a whole, the split is -4.8/+12.6.

Furthermore, among the 27 players taking at least 15 field goal attempts per game, Aldridge averaged only 16.5 points, which ranked dead last in the playoffs.

As seen in the Houston series, it’s not like Aldridge can’t play the game. He’s got a lot to offer and will eventually find that groove again, but until then he’ll have to do some soul searching to discover it.

Los Angeles Clippers

It seems like every postseason, the Clippers always find themselves watching the rest of the West take a stab at Golden State to get to the NBA Finals. This year it was the Spurs. Last year it was the Thunder. The year before that it was the Rockets.

All of this begs the question: Will Doc Rivers and company ever even get there?

For the fifth straight time, this same core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan was bounced in either the first or second round of the postseason. Before getting too critical, you do have to consider the terrible luck of Griffin, who was taken out of the playoffs due to a toe injury three games into the series with Utah.

The same mess happened last year when he aggravated a quad injury and Paul fractured his right hand in the same game against the Blazers in the first round. It’s unbelievable how Los Angeles has had so much misfortune, but there’s nothing you can do about it. After another early exit, the speculation surrounding the future of the franchise is all over the place.

Both Paul and Griffin both have an early termination option in their contracts, and it’s expected that the two of them will exercise that right headed into the offseason.

There are already rumors running rampant around Paul’s direction, specifically a link to San Antonio. ESPN’s Marc Stein reported Friday that the Clippers are concerned that the Spurs could lure the All-Star point guard away, and since there is legitimate mutual interest between both parties, the worry is warranted. Obviously there will have to be a lot of moving around for R.C. Buford to clear cap space, but crazier things have happened before.

However, Los Angeles does hold the advantage to offer Paul a super-max contract of five years and over $210 million due to the designated player exception, while other teams can only make a four-year maximum contract offer.

Griffin, on the other hand, likely doesn’t have a more ideal scenario than staying with the Clippers. It’s already been reported by multiple outlets that Rivers is trying to keep his guys together, so he will likely be offered a five-year max deal to stay there. With his history of injuries, it could be the best bet for Griffin anyways. Let’s also not forget how he’s become accustomed to the Hollywood lifestyle, either.

Whatever may happen with Paul or Griffin, it won’t matter until the team realizes its full potential and gets to the big stage. If the organization fails to do this again next year, though, they’ll need to mull over some serious changes in personnel and on the roster.

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About Spencer Davies

Spencer Davies

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.