Even when they stumble to a dismal 19-63 record, the Clippers manage to keep it interesting. Whether they’re lucking their way to the top pick in the draft, assembling a roster of high-priced malcontents, or deflecting another bizarre story about their owner, the Clips never deprive their fans and observers of stuff to talk about. Over the next week or so, Steve Perrin of Clips Nation and I will explore it all — the rebuilding process (or lack thereof), trade speculation, the trials of Nación citizenship (and postnationalism), Zach Randolph, and the “It’s the Clippers” shibboleth. Here’s our first installment:
From: Kevin Arnovitz
To: Steve Perrin
Date: June 3, 2009
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where to begin a dialogue about the state of the Clippers. Should we zero in on the upcoming draft and the prospect of Blake Griffin joining the team? Should we fully diagnose what the Clippers need to do on their long road back to respectability? Should we take a look at the franchise from 30,000 feet and survey all the destruction since the hopeful days of the youth movement and the 2005-06 run? Should we answer the persistent, facile “It’s the Clippers” rap that infects most discussions about the club? I suspect we’ll touch on all the above.
I hit a crisis point this last season trying to blog the Clippers. I started Clipperblog in the winter of 2006 because the team was playing quality basketball that was, by and large, going uncovered. The basketball is what lured me to the blogosphere and what kept me writing late into the night. The Clippers were only a middle-of-the-pack offensive squad that season, but more nights than not, they exhibited a coherent, watchable brand of basketball — and, man, did they play some good defense. Breaking down Clippers games was a fun exercise, and even when they played badly, the loss was part of a larger narrative that meant something.
Maybe I’m the fair-weather type, but if the basketball isn’t worth a thoughtful critical analysis, I have a difficult time maintaining interest. That might be more of a commentary on the craft of blogging than it is on the Los Angeles Clippers. I imagine most restaurant critics love their jobs — but what would happen if they were restricted to only the worst joints in town?
Last season, the Clippers ceased to be interesting from a basketball standpoint with a few exceptions — Eric Gordon’s maturation, the two or three Mike Taylor games, the challenge of getting a limited, but prolific shooter like Steve Novak shots. Apart from that, it was painful to dissect — much more so than the losing teams at the beginning of the decade. To put it in the simplest possible terms, I have no idea what the current team aspires to be, what it wants to accomplish on a given offensive possession, or hopes to deny on a defensive one.
There’s something instructive about having this conversation in the shadow of the NBA Finals. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a lot of good basketball played by smart, well-assembled teams who know what they’re doing. In contrast to what we had to endure for six months, Orlando has been a revelation of what an adroit system looks like in the hands of players who understand (and have been conditioned to understand) how to maximize their talents on the floor. It isn’t just the Magic. Houston demonstrated what a franchise can do by making good choices with empirical savvy. The Bulls, decimated by injuries and reconstructed on the fly, still achieved a measure of success, even with an unexceptional coach. The Nuggets weren’t expected to compete for anything this season, but by not being afraid to take risks, Mark Warkentien remade a team with a semi-toxic culture into a winner.
Let’s fast forward exactly one year. In an ideal world, is there a hypothetical sentence about the 2009-10 Clippers that could fit snugly at the end of the preceding paragraph?