The Los Angeles Clippers survived the 2012-13 season with almost no drama. These Clippers do a great job of keeping any potential problems behind closed doors, and are cognizant of what that type of negative attention can do to a close-knit group.
At times this season, there was almost no news even surrounding the team, other than stories about their 17-game winning streak, loaded bench and incessant SportsCenter highlights. That, in and of itself, is quite an accomplishment, as we’ve seen certain contenders undone by their egos and issues throughout the years.
But we knew at some point controversy would arise – not just on the court, but off it, too. That’s why it was no surprise that a column from L.A. Times columnist T.J. Simers questioned the Clippers’ chemistry, as well as the maturity levels of young big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
You can tell how important the Clippers’ upcoming game is by who attends practice. On most days, the normal crew will be there – the beat guys, Clipper media, Fox Sports West, KFWB Radio. But whenever a national TV game is scheduled, you’ll see the big guns: TNT, ESPN, national reporters, columnists, etc.
At Friday’s practice, there was some of that atmosphere. You could just tell that there was juicy news, and it was the first question out of everyone’s mouth: Are there chemistry issues? Do guys not like each other? What’s going on?
“Obviously we’re not playing the same,” Blake Griffin said after Friday’s practice. “We haven’t played at quite the same level. But the chemistry and the way we get along as a team, nothing has changed. If you’re in our locker room and you see us joking around and talking and even throughout the game, it’s the exact same.”
Griffin clearly wasn’t happy with the story, especially a part about an altercation with him and Jordan, who is considered his best friend on the team. The altercation, according to Griffin, never occurred.
“The Sacramento thing didn’t even happen,” Griffin said. “If there’s things in there that are true, then it doesn’t bother me because it’s true and we messed up and we did it. But if it’s not true, it does bother me to a certain extent, because you can’t just say things that aren’t true. Obviously you can, but it’s a little disappointing that something like that would be so far from the truth. …
“When you really embellish a story, that’s what hurts the most. You want to believe people have better character than that.”
The Clippers that spoke at practice, including Griffin, Chris Paul, Caron Butler and head coach Vinny Del Negro, all attributed the supposed animosity to recent losses. Basically: when teams win, everything’s great and everybody loves each other; when they lose, no one can stand each other and they have chemistry issues. That’s typical stuff.
“What’s crazy though is you look at that 17-game win streak, when our chemistry was at its height, we had arguments in the huddles,” Griffin said. “There were times when guys were like, ‘You have to do this.’ It’d be a heated exchange. That’s what happens on teams. It just matters how you go from there.”
While Griffin had read the article and was upset, Paul claimed he hadn’t read or even heard of the story. He said he went out of town with his family after the game Wednesday, and didn’t bother to check out the news or sports TV. When informed of what was said, Paul wasn’t buying that the Clippers had issues different from any other team.
“I’m sure every team in the league has some type of issue,” Paul said. “Just like marriages. I don’t care what you see on TV, they’re not as perfect as they may seem. For me, all is well.”
Griffin denied any spat between him and Jordan, as well as him and Paul. Everything was said to be fine in ClipperLand, and the focus was on Sunday’s marquee match-up with the L.A. Lakers and the looming Pacific Division title.
However, the Clippers are certainly struggling. No one denied that. After getting out to an impressive 32-9 start, tying Oklahoma City for the best record in the league, they’re just 18-17, as well documented. Their defense has fallen apart, they’ve become predictable offensively, and their great asset – depth – has been inconsistent at best. So what’s the cause?
No one had an answer. They just knew that, no matter what it is, it has to be fixed, and soon.
There’s a possibility, though, that the 17-game win streak was a gift and a curse.
It proved to the Clippers just how talented they were, confirming their contention status and giving them something to fall back on whenever in doubt. Since then, though, they’ve been somewhat lackadaisical and just coasted by, knowing they can turn it “on” when necessary. Except, it hasn’t always worked in their favor, as you can’t play with your backs against the wall against good opponents.
Maybe the win streak gave them a feeling of invincibility and convinced them they were better than they really are. Maybe it was a sign of things to come, and they’re secretly gearing up for a long, illustrious playoff run. Maybe they’re somewhere in the middle, not the indestructible force that 17 in a row, but not the mediocre team that’s gone 18-17 since, either.
But of all of the 2013 Clippers’ faults – the defense, the lack of offensive creativity, not enough minutes for Eric Bledsoe or Jordan – chemistry was never a concern. And looking at what has transpired, even amidst the losing, I don’t think it should be. There are certainly differences between player and coach, and player and player, but it doesn’t seem to be the main issue.
Perhaps Caron Butler said it best:
“It’s a marathon (the season). When we were winning 17 in a row and having fun and every night was Groundhog’s Day, I told everybody, ‘It’s a marathon. Remember this moment. Remember how everybody’s feeling now. This is the summer of the season. Everybody’s feeling super great about each other. When the fall and winter part come, remember how we feel now and what we know we’re capable of doing.’”