I spent more time Wednesday thinking about the Los Angeles Clippers than I wanted to. Tuesday night’s loss combined with the Sterling incident, and Chris’ bitching have produced a sulfurous funk, what Simmons calls the stench, around the team. Clippers fans, with rare exceptions, are accustomed to the layer of gloom that hangs over the franchise, but most of it can be managed with a long sigh, shake of the head, and a resigned laugh. It’s what Clippers fans do. But something shifted overnight Tuesday, and by Wednesday afternoon, the climate had changed, even for the most patient among us.
There’s a very low threshold of expectation among Clippers fans. Other than the tail end of Maurice Taylor’s time with the team, the losing has always been tolerable. Most of those Clippers teams lacked talent, but that wasn’t their fault. Some of those squads actually overachieved [the 39-win 2001-02 team] given the composition of their rosters.
Wednesday felt like rock bottom, like franchise armageddon, and it triggered a strong sentiment that I’ve been trying to sublimate, even though Kelly Dwyer has made it difficult: This team is loathsome, and nobody — not even Clippers fans — has an infinite supply of resilience.
My thoughts differ from the hard-line fatalism that dominates most public conversations about the franchise. I find arguments that begin and end with some immutable belief that the team is destined for eternal failure irrational. Any franchise that’s willing to make a material commitment to building a roster can assemble one that can win. For the Clippers, ownership granted its consent for that strategy a few years back. It isn’t fate that’s sentenced the franchise to failure. It’s real life events — personnel decisions and performance. Curses and superstition are facile interpretations of reality.
This doesn’t mean that reversing course is easy. One revelation of Wednesday is a hardened belief that incrementalism won’t work. A wholesale approach can sometimes render harsh sentences. I honestly don’t believe that Mike Dunleavy is a bad tactical coach, but that doesn’t really matter anymore. It may not be entirely his fault, and it’s possible there aren’t more than a handful of people on the planet who could make this thing work. There might even be situations where Dunleavy could win again, but this doesn’t appear to be one of them.
After Elton Brand’s about-face, Baron Davis is owed a karmic favor, and that should be worth something. I still believe that Baron is the kind of player who can develop that veteran ability of recognizing physical limitations and employing experience to compensate for any diminishing capacity. Under a new regime, I think he could make that happen in a Clippers uniform, but he’ll have to try. Superstars perform regardless of situation, system, or context. They stake claim to the ten hours of meaningful court time a week irrespective of the fact that ownership is insane, the coach is stifling, and the mood is morose. Baron could compose a decent narrative for himself if he wants to. My optimism in him might be irrational, but I’m a sucker for charisma even when it’s mercurial.
Apart from that, the Clippers have as many assets as they do liabilities. The list is familiar, and determining which is which is a matter of some debate. Wednesday was about something else, an admission that moving forward as a loyalist will demand brutal endurance to outlast the torment, the likes of which even Clippers fans have never suffered. Sublimation will numb only part of it. But if the past week tells you anything, it’s that behavior and decisions provoke events, not fate.