Can a season be a success and a failure at the same time?
The answer is dependent on context, and the ghosts of Clipper past provide that while serving as a convenient contrast for today’s success. We know what a truly awful, failure of a team looks like, and this ain’t that.
Things aren’t as simple as they used to be, though. The Clippers of yore struggled in nearly every imaginable area, so there was no need to perform a thorough autopsy (we did anyway) for the cause of death. They were just dead, usually before the season even started.
Things that were inconsequential to dead teams of the past matter now, but there’s still a tendency to view the team in the same lens as before. Because the on-court product is a good one, and because the Clippers are decidedly alive, the prevalent thought process is that the organization has grown in step with the team. That there is progression and sustainability and all those things you want for a team coming up in the world.
Of course, that’s not the way the NBA really works. Your chances of a miracle are only increased by the more lifeless you are, and the Clippers got their miracle in Blake Griffin. Chris Paul and Griffin have carried the Clippers to heights previously unseen, but it’s puzzling to me that the team and organization can’t be separated, even as they did it themselves with the Kevin Garnett issue, among other things. and countless others.
It’s not the fracture itself that bothers me as much as the potential for adopted ignorance. I heard the Clippers referred to as a “world-class organization” not too long ago, and part of me thinks Donald Sterling might really believe that when he hears it. But what is that based on? On results? On the best season in history?
History and perspective have their place in this, but comparing the Clippers to what they used to be instead of what they could be now feels wrong, and history probably shouldn’t be used to validate the current process as a sustainable one.
Winning isn’t often viewed as detrimental, but it certainly can be if it’s an impediment to change. We don’t often associate “best season ever” with “failure to maximize potential” in sports, and part of me does acknowledge that delving into the intangible (potential) over the tangible (wins) might make me appear silly.
But that’s the thing about the Clippers. They are complex and confounding instead of simple and easy. It’s kind of confusing to view Vinny Del Negro as the head coach of the best team in history and simultaneously accept that he could be one of the franchise’s biggest mistakes. We can condemn Donald Sterling for not spending more on staffing, scouting, analytics and coaching, but we can also applaud him for amnestying Ryan Gomes and spending more money on the talent on the floor. Things aren’t cut and dry anymore.
Fandom, and I speak only for myself here, has become equally as confusing. I love the Clippers, and yet I also hate the Clippers. I cheer for them, and I root against them. The 50 wins, the Pacific Division crown, and the sweep over the Lakers did not satisfy me as much as they concerned me. This is supposed to be the good part — the grand karmic reward for sticking it out through the bad times — but I at least like to think that I root for processes that I have faith in. Remove that, and what’s left? Cheering for laundry?
Maybe that’s where my concern stems from. I’m worried that the team’s success is validating the wrong things. What if every W is providing positive reinforcement to decision-makers that are still doing an awful lot of things wrong? What if the real avenues to improve will continue to be ignored? Necessity is the mother of invention, so what if new ways to succeed in a rapidly changing league aren’t explored?
I don’t mean to rain on the parade, that’s not my intention. Parades are fun — unless you’re actually trying to go somewhere. Then it’s simply a bunch of avenues blocked off by people who are satisfied just to be out in the sun.