The Staples Center, which celebrates its 10 year anniversary this year, is an absolutely gorgeous arena. Sure, it may lose some of its appeal when the purple and gold are on the hardwood, but regardless of your fan allegiance, it’s hard to deny the beauty that comes in the form of a big game at Staples. Unfortunately most recent big games have been dimmed light celebri-fests, but it was only a few playoffs ago when Staples was filled with Clipper lifers, Clipper converts, and a large mass of other people excited to get on board with the perennial underdog. That playoff series in ’06 was one of the few times that the Staples Center really felt like “our” arena, finally devoid of the fans who come to crack expired Clippers jokes and root for opposing stars.
Many Clipper fans feel second rate sharing an arena, but there should be no embarrassment that stems from that. The Jets and the Giants have shared a stadium for years, and those are two NFL franchises with rich traditions. There is no need for the Clippers to move out of Los Angeles, even if it was to a willing suitor like Anaheim. Outside of Madison Square Garden, Staples Center is probably the highest regarded arena in all of basketball. At a rental of 1.5 million a year, Sterling isn’t taking this team anywhere soon, and nor should he. The Clippers belong in Los Angeles. There are plenty of things that need to change about this franchise, but the location of the team is not one.
It’s a popular theory amongst certain fans that the Clippers simply will not be able to attract big time free agents, ever, partially because they reside in the Lakers enormous shadow, but mostly because of the fall back reasoning that “they’re the Clippers”. I’ve discussed this argument ad nauseam in the past, so I’ll spare you all.What if the negative connotations with the Clippers ring true for the most desirable NBA free agents? What steps can the Clippers take to change that? The obvious answer, of course, is to win ballgames. But is one year of improvement enough, or do the Clippers need sustained solid play for multiple years before L.A. becomes the free agent hot spot it could be?
This may not be popular in the comments section, but Dunleavy being the only Coach/GM in the league provides the Clippers with an advantage when it comes to recruiting free agents. Often times there’s a disconnect between coach and GM in terms of evaluating talent and rosters, an issue that the Clippers are never faced with. Dunleavy can tell a free agent that he’ll be a starter and he won’t bring in another player at his position, and that means a little more coming from the guy who is actually in charge of both things. Maybe the difference isn’t substantial, but from a player point of view, you have to imagine the security a dual Head Coach/GM can offer factors in a bit.
Instant success on the court will be the biggest factor in whether the Clippers can lure a Joe Johnson type player in 2010, but there needs to be a wide view approach that differs from the Al Davis like “Just Win Baby” approach that sometimes takes life with the front office. For starters, the Clippers whole operation needs to attack the “living in the Lakers shadow” stigma, and one way to do that is to claim a small chunk of Staples Center for the Clippers. Something that shows that the Clippers, ya know, actually play there too.
The Clippers currently have nothing in the rafters at Staples. Nothing. No banners. No retired jerseys. Nothing. This is a franchise that is approaching it’s 40th anniversary, and there are zero ties to the past to be found. K.A. wrote a great piece earlier this summer on Randy Smith that was spot on. In the article, K.A. suggested that the Clippers retire Smith’s jersey, and I’m going to take it a step further. The Clippers must retire Smith’s jersey. Smith is the Clippers’ most tenured star, previously held the NBA record for games played in a row, and is the franchise leader in (ready?) games, minutes, points, assists, and steals. Smith was that good. Stop burying the past and throw that #9 baby blue up in the rafters. It’s a small gesture, but it’s a sign of respect that Smith deserved a long time ago.
Honestly, these are the type of little things that make franchises more appealing to free agents. You want Joe Johnson in 2010? Win games this year, first and foremost, but also retire a jersey or two. Maybe update the logo. Market Blake Griffin relentlessly; with his personality and charisma, he can make it cool to be a Clipper again. Send Griffin and Gordon to recruit free agents next summer. Changing public perception isn’t going to happen overnight by simply winning games, it needs to be a full scale effort, with no skimming over the little things.
Start it in the rafters, and hope it works its way down.