Perceptions are hard to change in the NBA.
Over the last year and a half, the Clippers have made the right moves, said the right things and made an internal transformation from one the league’s perennial laughingstocks to one of its most attractive destinations.
Still, whenever the conversation of the Clippers’ future successes would come up, people would heed with cautious optimism.
Even after trading for Chris Paul and then locking up Blake Griffin with a max deal, there were faint whispers of These are the Clippers, nothing good can come of this. Bad luck, it seemed, was continually lurking around the corner.
More than bad luck, though, was a bad perception. No matter how successful their decisions have been over the last 18 months — re-signing Griffin, letting go of Vinny Del Negro, acquiring Doc Rivers, holding into Eric Bledsoe thus far — the Clippers never received the benefit of the doubt from their critics.
When the Clippers brought back Vinny Del Negro after Year 1, they were labeled “cheap.” Then when the let him go after this season — when it was apparent to almost everyone that he wasn’t the man for the job — the Clippers were once again condemned, this time for being “ignorant.” How could they let a 56-win coach go? This must be the same old Clippers.
Of course, the great qualifier has always been Paul, fair or not. If the Clippers could somehow manage the best point guard alive to commit to playing his prime with them, then and only then could the franchise be taken seriously.
It was an arduous process — with early playoff exits, locker room quarrels and Los Angeles Times comments presenting the greatest challenges — but an effortless decision for Paul nonetheless.
The Clippers presented the best chance to win a championship, the best brand, the best market, the best contract, the best future for Paul. Quite frankly, this was a no-brainer.
Paul was never going to leave. He just wanted the best coach on the market, which the Clippers gave him in Rivers. It was a smart use of his leverage.
The Clippers could have settled for Lionel Hollins, Brian Shaw or Byron Scott — all above-average coaches and quality candidates — but they chose the field’s luminary, and in an ironic Clipper twist, the highest-paid coach in the league.
That all but sealed the deal for Paul, which is why it was no surprise when he tweeted this:
I'M IN!!! #CLIPPERNATION
— Chris Paul (@CP3) July 1, 2013
With three words, Paul determined the fate of the Clippers, and to a larger extent, the NBA landscape. Outside of Miami and Oklahoma City, there’s perhaps no team with a brighter future than the one that resides in Lobtropolis. The situation was too good for him to pass up, but if there was ever a team to be spurned in such a manner, it would be this one.
The stigma that surrounds the Clippers has yet to be eviscerated, but significant progress has been made and will continue to be. With Paul, Griffin and Rivers at the helm, it would be difficult for even the basketball gods to mess up this dynamic.
As the Clippers advance on their quest to a championship, the doubters will continue to dwindle. Winning is the great elixir, no matter how misfortunate the past is.
Change happens faster than our minds can process. Even if it’s staring us right in the face.