“Steve Ballmer seems like a nice enough guy. Donald Sterling was one of the worst human beings who ever owned a pro sports franchise. With that said – since last summer, the Ballmer Clips have been just as much of a disaster behind the scenes as the Sterling Clips were. Ballmer has shown zero evidence that he knows what he’s doing. And it’s been the best kept secret in the NBA for 15-16 months. The Clips organization has been as dysfunctional as ever – not just the team but especially off the court. It’s a laundry list of things. And I’m gonna be interested to see which reporter jeopardizes their long-term access/connections to write the story…because it’s coming.” – Bill Simmons on Twitter.
One of my favorite childhood memories came during summer school, of all places.
Every day in a poorly ventilated trailer, class began with 20 minutes of sustained silent reading. Some kids slept. Others just looked at a book and didn’t turn the pages.
Fortunately, I had a good book. That summer, I lapped up the Jordan Rules by Sam Smith, a detailed account of the rise of Michael Jordan and how the Chicago Bulls became a championship team.
It was fascinating.
Remember, you only had one viewpoint of Michael Jordan as a kid growing up in the 90s. There was no crying meme or giant jeans or anything like that. He was the alpha and the omega. You had his shoes or his jersey, you tried to shoot his turnaround fadeaway and failed, and you let your tongue hang out an irresponsible amount while playing. Jordan was untouchable in every sense of the word.
But Smith did the impossible with this book and made Jordan look like, you know, an actual person with flaws and motivations and obsessions.
It was all so hard to reconcile at that age: how can Jordan be the best player ever but also punch Will Perdue’s lights out during practice?
The Jordan stuff is the meat of the book, as you’d probably guess. But you also find out about the inner-workings of the Bulls, and how everyone sort of hated Jerry Krause, and how there was all this tension and lack of trust between the players and the staff and how their previous failures to the Detroit Pistons had brought everything to a boil.
The Bulls were dysfunctional, basically.
I’m not diving into the sacrilege practice of drawing parallels between those Bulls teams and the Clippers – at least not directly. It was a different time. Have you tried to watch a game from the late 80s these days? It looks like a completely different sport. The three-point line didn’t even need to be there.
The thing is, there’s this purveyed idea that every team that wins a title in this era has achieved this relationship nirvana between players and coaches and staff, when realistically, championships just tend to expunge most of the minor transgressions that took place beforehand.
And it comes back to that same reconciliation a pimple-faced freshman had to make in that trailer: Great players have to be great teammates, but great teammates don’t punch each other, so maybe great players don’t have to be great teammates.
Championship teams have to operate like the Spurs, because the Spurs win championships, but sometimes the Spurs don’t win championships, and so maybe every team doesn’t have to be like the freaking Spurs.
Point being, Simmons isn’t necessarily pointing out that the Clippers are doomed because of the perceived dysfunction. He’s acknowledging the dysfunction for what it is. And there’s a lot of it. A small sampling:
- The Clippers hard-capped themselves, then dealt from a position of need and gave away a critical asset in a first-round pick just to remedy their screw up. Reading Doc Rivers’ responsibilities is like the start of a Hey Mon! skit…”I’m the head coach, the general manager, the president of basketball operations…”
- Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan had beef, then didn’t, but still might.
- There’s been a fine for a deal on the side being illegally added to the DeAndre Jordan negotiations, which is like getting caught by Paul Blart for shoplifting. (Wait, is Paul Blart actually good at his job? That would complicate this analogy.)
- Jamal Crawford, meanwhile, is twisting in the wind, left to cryptically tweet for the rest of his life.
- Hey, did you know Doc Rivers traded for his own son last year? No, really!
These are some of the things we know and there are probably a million other things we don’t know that would shock and awe.
And they’d all be made footnotes by a championship.
At least by my estimation, the Clippers got a lot closer to that ultimate goal this offseason. For a team almost completely void of movable or worthwhile assets, mostly by their own doing, Doc and company did well to acquire the kind of high upside talent that’s necessary to make the leap. Hedo Turkoglu, because it’s fun to pick on Hedo Turkoglu, was exactly the kind of safe veteran signing that clearly wasn’t going to make a substantial impact last year. Josh Smith is decidedly not that, and he’s also the same m’er f’er that buried the Clippers in Game 6 and can, potentially, play at a level well above his salary.
If you aren’t developing young guys or have assets to acquire players at their peak value, and yet you still want to raise your team’s ceiling, this is the way to do it. It almost feels like it clicked for Doc, or maybe someone made it click for him: you can’t only acquire the guys you want to coach. Well, you can, but you shouldn’t.
If the greatest strength Doc brings to the Clippers is his ability to manage personalities, then load up on the damn personalities. Dye your hair seven different colors and wear that wedding dress, Lance Stephenson. Get punched in the face by CP3, Cole Aldrich. Keep waiting for that Team USA invite, Austin. Screw it. You’re not beating Daryl Morey in the mini games, Doc. This is your lane, and it always has been.
Simmons is right. The Clippers are dysfunctional, or at the very least, have dysfunctional tendencies.
But that dysfunction can be mitigated by an increase in self-awareness. It’s harder to identify, but that’s been present this offseason, nonetheless.