The 2014-15 Narrative Primer
We tell stories for many reasons: to learn, to laugh, to weave ourselves (however crudely) into the fabric of history. Ultimately, though, our narratives serve one function: to make the pain of living easier to bear. That’s more or less why we follow sports.
Unless we’re talking about the Clippers.
The stories surrounding the Clippers have been less like emotional escape valves than they’ve been funhouse mirrors, taking the pathos of everyday life and reflecting it back at us with perverse horror. That horror abated considerably following the arrivals of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and Doc Rivers — but with Donald Sterling in place, it always lurked in the shadows.
Rivers attempted to control the 2013-14 narrative by crafting it himself, though he didn’t quite get to finish it. “Process over results” was the guiding principle, and it rang true through a number of subplots: the entrance of Griffin into the MVP conversation, the development of DeAndre Jordan as a defensive anchor, and the no-longer laughable notion of the Clippers as contenders. But the process got subsumed by something grotesque, the narrative threads unraveled, and we were left, like so many times before, staring into Donald Sterling’s cold, familiar void, trying once more to rationalize the results.
Usually the first day of a Clippers’ season is the most hopeful. But this year the hope feels less naive than before, extending beyond the LAC faithful. Last year we talked about process over results. Now everyone’s expecting results.
As the past recedes into memory, the Clippers look like the future of basketball in Los Angeles. With the future in mind, here are five potential story lines to carry us through the 2014-15 season.
1. “The Clean Slate”
Storyline: Donald Sterling is a thing of the past, meaning the Clippers can resume last season’s interrupted gelling process. Freed from distraction, they fire on all cylinders offensively while continuing to hone their defense — finally reaching the Western Conference Finals (or beyond).
The story unravels if: The whole proves less than the sum of its parts, or it turns out that the West is just too brutal for L.A. to escape the second round of the playoffs.
2. “Don, but not Forgotten”
Storyline: Despite having been banned from the NBA, having his team bought and litigated out from under him, and finally getting the wide-scale public shaming he so richly deserved, Donald Sterling continues to haunt the Clippers from beyond the (ownership) grave. File this one under freak injuries, legal mumbo jumbo, and busted water mains.
Likelihood: Very low, especially considering the early successes of Ballmer’s ownership (see: snazzy new lighting at home games and what looks to be a smoother-functioning top-to-bottom organization).
The story unravels if: People rely on reason and remember that curses don’t exist.
3. “Blake Superior”
Storyline: The NBA’s best power forward devastates the league with a new-found range that makes him borderline unguardable. With a few timely corner threes in the playoffs, he renders “all he does is dunk” a thing of the past.
Likelihood: High, with bonus points for being able to coexist alongside other narratives.
The story unravels if: Shots don’t fall on national TV, and/or broadcasters fret over him becoming too “soft.”
4. “Mediocre Wings Can Be Hard to Watch”
Storyline: Like NBC’s forgettable 1990s sitcom, the Clipper wings are unlikely to improve with age. The lack of a wing stopper hurts their perimeter and pick-and-roll defense throughout the year, and costs them big come spring.
Likelihood: Higher than you’d like. Last year the Clippers had the league’s best three point defense — but only in terms of percentage. They were in the middle of the pack in terms of opponent three-point attempts, which bodes badly for a team that failed to make a much-needed upgrade at small forward. (Also worrisome: last year the league’s 12 best teams averaged 108 points per 100 possessions against the Clips.)
The story unravels if: L.A. makes a trade at the small forward position, as folks are already predicting they will.
5. “Power Corrupts. Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.”
Storyline: Doc Rivers the coach wants to win now, which clouds the judgment of Doc Rivers the general manager. Cognitive dissonance leads to short-sighted personal decisions that, if they don’t result in a championship this year, hurt the team down the road.
Likelihood: Too soon to tell, though there’s already concern about this summer’s moves were too hasty — that they failed to maximize flexibility, that they surrendered too much for too little in return, and that they ignored potential talent (Raduljica, Ingles) and the draft.
The story unravels if: Hawes and Farmar prove to be massive upgrades over their predecessors, the Clippers make a savvy trade where they don’t get fleeced, and/or the team makes a few Spursian second round draft picks in the coming years.
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