“Identity” is one of those buzz words you hear repeatedly out of the mouths of NBA coaches and players, but you rarely hear it from Vinny Del Negro or any member of the Clippers’ core. The Clippers battle, fight and work, but try to define who they are as a basketball team and you’re at a loss for words. – Kevin Arnovitz, March 9th
What happens when a team without a real identity stops battling, fighting, or working hard?
There’s a reason the most successful teams of our era are easily definable. The Lakers were as much about Kobe and Shaq as they were about the triangle offense. The Spurs were Popovich’s strategic genius just like they were Tony-Manu-Timmy. Even now, the Bulls are defined not by their individual talent but how that talent gets together on the defensive end to ruin their opponents’’ night. Great teams have more than just great players.
The Clippers have two great players — two of the greatest talents in the league. But that’s where it stops. The Clippers rarely outwork teams these days. They coast on talent, often pulling it out in the fourth quarter in dramatic fashion if haven’t already been blown out of the water. It’s become sort of an addiction to this team, with Chris Paul acting as an enabler to the destructive habits.
Instead of latching on to an identifying trait everyone can attempt to attain — like strong defense — the Clippers identifying trait is that they think they’re better than you. It’s a little condescending, not mention impractical for everyone outside of Paul and Griffin. The Clippers as a whole have adopted the only habits of their stars they could emulate — they rarely play hard until the fourth quarter (Paul) and they play defense even more infrequently (Griffin).
In no other sport would it be acceptable to have a gameplan that is almost solely dependent on the talent of the players. A boxer who doesn’t study tape and implement an attack plan ends up staring at the lights more often than not. A baseball team that doesn’t focus on the numbers and adjust accordingly finds itself in the cellar by June. You get the point. By not running strong sets offensively, the Clippers level the battlefield unnecessarily. Can anyone argue that this simplistic offense is making the game easier for anyone at this point? Teams adjust and adapt. And now they smell the blood in the water. And now nothing is easy.
As a fan, it’s a confusing experience. Even the Clippers’ wins tend to feel undeserved. The underdog nature that firmly endeared fans to the “Clippers” name is long gone, but not in the positive way most expected. The Clippers are now Goliath, relying only on superior talent and strength instead of wit and strategy.
Clippers fan fell in love with the 2005-06 playoff team because they grinded. They got nasty on the defensive end, even if they weren’t necessarily all good defenders. That was their identity — they were a lunch-pail type of team.
The 2011-12 team is less blue-collar, more silver-spoon. Vinny Del Negro is either uninformed or arrogant in his approach to offense, and his inability to have the team take even the smallest of baby steps in the right direction defensively is damning.
Are we having fun yet?