There aren’t many tasks on this planet that are impossible. At the risk of sounding like a corny Adidas catchphrase, I’ll elaborate: within the realm of our natural existence, and as long as one is given the means to succeed, effort is a far more common inhibitor of success than ineptitude. In a world shaped by behaviours, materials and attitudes, perhaps the challenge that straddles the lines of impossible and possible most closely is the ability to change.
Finding yourself on the brink of change is exhilarating, scary and in many ways, haunting. Right as you’re ready to break free from the moves and mistakes of the past, they try their hardest to pull you back in. The more you push, the more they bind. It’s a seemingly impossible tug-of-war match. For the Clippers, the plight towards change and the ensuing tug-of-war began in 2011, when Chris Paul stepped on the court and the “other” team from Los Angeles witnessed their first real glimmer of hope in years.
What’s interesting about the Clippers’ pursuit of change is that in sports, a new philosophy is almost exclusively followed by a new regime — either a major change in management, coaching, or both. For the Clippers, the keys have almost always been in the hands of Donald Sterling. In other words, this would be the most impossible of impossible changes.
Of course, change comes in stages. The pushing, the pulling, the binding. The Clippers worked hard and they worked smart to achieve their first breakthrough: trading for Chris Paul. Yet just over six months later, they let the man who engineered that franchise-changing trade Neil Olshey, bolt for Portland because they didn’t want to pay him. That same offseason, Vinny Del Negro was retained despite later reports surfacing that Paul was adamantly opposed to the decision. One year later — after a season which featured both a 17-game winning streak and first-round exit — Donald Sterling finally put his friend Vinny out of his misery.
Cue the music.
CUT THE MUSIC! CUT! CUT! CUT!
Hold on, guys. Stop the presses. We haven’t mastered the art of change. Not just yet.
Almost immediately following Vinny’s departure, Sterling — in more or less words — let the press know that the decision to let Vinny walk was not his, but Paul’s. A psychologist might classify this as a growing pain. Unfortunately, I’m not sure they provide shrinks for entire franchises. If they don’t, they should. In fact, it would probably go something like this:
The Milwaukee Bucks:
“What are your concerns?”
“Well, doctor, I just haven’t been on the right track for a while now. No matter what I try, it just feels like I’m treading water. My life could be a lot worse, but it could be a lot better.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“Well, I know when I’m making a mistake, but sometimes I feel like it’d just be so much easier to stay where I am than have to start all over. Could you imagine that? Picking up the pieces are being back at square one?” *shudder*
The Chicago Bulls:
“So, what’s on your mind?”
“About a year ago, my boyfriend left me. And it was right before we were about to go on this exciting trip to Florida. Ever since then, I just haven’t been able to bounce back. Sometimes, I just find myself begging him to come back… but it’s all in vain.”
“Have you thought about moving on?”
“You see, the problem is that he keeps saying he’s almost ready to come back to me. Then he stammers phrases like ‘110 percent’. What does that even mean? I guess he’s working through some personal stuff. I should give him the time he needs, but sometimes I feel like he’s just keeping me hanging by a string.”
The Los Angeles Lakers:
“What brings you in here today?”
“I was feeling lonely about a year ago, so one night I went out to the club with a few of my buddies. We spotted a girl that a couple of my friends were referring to as a ‘sure thing.’ As luck would have it, she was into me as well. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity. What could go wrong, right? This was a no-brainer. Long story short, I wooed this chick for like, 10 months, and the whole relationship was a complete disappointment. A couple of days ago, she left me and I’ve completely hit rock bottom since then. The worst part is that I’m drowning in debt with no end in sight.”
“You deserve everything that’s happening to you. P.S. Kobe isn’t taking a pay cut.”
“Wait, who’s Ko– and… what?”
About a month after the entire Sterling-CP3 debacle, in a move that was entirely Lakers-esque, the Clippers sacrificed a draft pick in order to sign a head coach that wasn’t even supposed to be on the market in Doc Rivers. Not to mention, Rivers is the highest-paid coach in the NBA.
A few days later, when the free-agent frenzy had barely gotten out of the gate, Chris Paul excitedly announced via Twitter that he was re-signing with the Clippers.
I'M IN!!! #CLIPPERNATION
— Chris Paul (@CP3) July 1, 2013
The apotheosis of this process came when the Clips pulled off a deal that was reminiscent of the Paul trade, not so much in grandeur but in knowledge and resourcefulness. Instead of holding on to Eric Bledsoe for dear life, management faced the reality of the situation and exchanged him for some much-needed outside shooting.
Just to show off, they retained Matt Barnes and then signed more appropriately talented Darren Collison to fulfill his manifest destiny from his New Orleans days as Chris Paul’s backup.
The moves the Clippers made, both high-profile and low-profile, could’ve just been moves but the franchise’s self-assuredness and sense of direction this off-season suggests there’s something more to the past two weeks. I said earlier that change comes in stages, but it appears that the front office’s abrupt jump from potentially self-destructive to utterly virtuosic has worked for Los Angeles: their once futile management might have made the second-most impressive free agency splash this summer, behind only Daryl Morey’s prying of Dwight Howard from the Lakers. It won’t be consistent, it won’t be steady and it won’t be without a few relapses, but the Clippers, believe it or not, are changing. It’s the kind of change that prospers hope. And every inappreciable step forward feels triumphant.
What a difference 14 days makes.