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The Clippers and Their Sure Return to Incompetence

November 28th, 2017 · No Comments · Basketball, Clippers, Lakers, NBA

As a native of Southern California, I knew all about the Los Angeles Clippers.

They were bad, except when they were horrid.

They didn’t have fans, per se; their games were attended by bargain-hunters who could not afford to see the Lakers or were supporters of whatever NBA team the Clippers happened to be playing.

They were owned and operated by Donald Sterling, a bad man and a bad owner, and the idea of the Clippers ever eclipsing the Lakers in the standings or in the hearts of fans was preposterous. Ahead of the 2011-12 season, they had reached the playoffs four times in 33 seasons with the Clippers name, advancing to the second round once.

Then the Clippers got a few things right. They used the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft to take Blake Griffin, a year after they had taken a promising center, DeAndre Jordan.

NBA president David Stern then scandalously stepped in to punish the Lakers and help the Clippers, blocking the trade of Chris Paul, then 26, from the New Orleans Hornets to the Lakers, and a week later approving the trade of Paul to the Clippers for three middling players and a No. 1 draft choice.

And “Lob City”, as it was called, broke out with Paul tossing the ball at the backboard, where Griffin or Jordan would dunk it.

It was fun, for a time there. For the next six seasons, the Clippers won at least 60 percent of their games, racking up a 66 percent winning record (including a club-record 57 victories in 2013-14) and reaching the playoffs six consecutive years — though failing to get past the second round.

And now?

The Clippers are so over. Headed back whence they came — to the land of no-hopers and discounted tickets.

How did this happen?

The Clippers never really got a coach who could take them to another level. Vinny Del Negro did the first two winning seasons, but then the club went to Doc Rivers, who had been considered … let’s say wanting, as Boston’s coach, until his Celtics assembled a big three in 2007-08 (Kevin Durant, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen) and they won a championship — which elevated the mockery and second-guessing which had been his lot (See: Bill Simmons, 2006) before Ubuntu broke out. It made Doc a championship coach, and ahead of the 2013-14 season the Clippers hired him and waited for something dramatic to happen.

It never quite did. The club got to the second round of the playoffs in 2015, and led the Houston Rockets 3-1 in a best-of-seven series, but injuries and nerves led to them losing the final three games, and they never quite seemed the same. They kept banging out 50-win seasons (going 313-163 over their six big years) while the Lakers fell to pieces, but it was if the Clippers’ window had closed, back in the spring of 2015, when they couldn’t finish off the Rockets.

Paul forced his way out of the team during the summer, following another first-round playoffs exit, and the Clippers acceded, sending him to Houston for, essentially, guard Patrick Beverley and a first-round pick next year.

So, long CP3.

Plan B in Clippersland was to make Griffin their centerpiece, and keep on winning. Well, they were not winning much, and then Griffin did what he does, which is find a way to get hurt — a knee sprain, last night, shelving him for two months, maybe three.

Oh, and Beverley is out for the season with a blown knee. And the Clippers entered the season without JJ Redick, the three-point specialist, who signed with Philadelphia. A team with a future, that is.

The Clippers now have a center who is a strong defender and rebounder who rarely sees the ball in the attacking end, and the club  needs regular big performance from the likes of Lou Williams, Austin Rivers (the coach’s son), Wesley Johnson and Danilo Gallinari — if and when the latter gets over his latest injury.

The Clippers plan was flawed from the start, because missing big chunks of season is what Griffin does (83 games, over the previous three season), and the inevitable happened on Monday, when Austin Rivers tumbled into Griffin’s knee.

The injury happened in the final minutes of the Clippers’ 120-115 victory over the Lakers, giving them 20 victories in their past 22 meetings with the 16-time champions.

Don’t look for that to continue.

The Lakers will not be world beaters this season, but they will finish ahead of the shambles that is now the Clippers.

Season-ticket holders, who already had to be shaken by the loss of Paul and Redick, can be counted on to sell their tickets to brokers, because It Is So Over in Clipperville.

A year from now, long-time Lakers fans will sit around and recall that their team had a shocking run of failure against their Staples Center tenants … but it will seem increasingly unreal. As if it never happened and never will again.

Steve Ballmer, the man who bought the club for $2 billion (when the NBA forced out Sterling), got a couple of good years watching the Clips from center court. But that is over now, from the minute Blake Griffin went down clutching his knee.

The Clippers had a moment or 10 but, in historic Clippers fashion, never took full advantage of any of them, failing to reach a first conference finals, never mind the NBA Finals.

The only good news for fans of the Clippers?

Tickets should be much cheaper on the resale market.


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