Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our 2012-13 guide to the upcoming NBA season, in which we identify the reasons why your favorite team might have to start looking forward to 2013-2014 — and highlight at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: the Los Angeles Clippers, those of the flopping variety.
Like the son of a racist millionaire (Donald Sterling) and younger brother of the coolest kid in school (the Lakers) that they are, the Los Angeles Clippers have had a troubled existence since they were adopted by Los Angeles in 1984. Twenty-seven years later, they have finally come into their own, going from laughing stock of the NBA to fan favorite and legitimate playoff contender thanks to their Seattle Sonics-esque core of hard-nosed floor general Chris Paul and mind-blowingly athletic Blake Griffin. The birth of “Lob City” represents a renaissance in Clipperland, where years of losing and a failed foray into legitimacy in 2006 bring cautious optimism to a team with a surprisingly nice mix of youth talent and veteran leadership.
So what’s the problem?
We’ve been here before.
You know how I just mentioned 2006? Yeah. The Clippers suddenly being good already happened just six years ago. Before Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan, there was Elton Brand and Chris Kaman. Before Chris Paul, there was Sam Cassell. Before going 40-26 and losing in the second round, there was going 47-35 and losing in the second round. There is literally nothing the Clippers did last year that wasn’t done in the 2006 season. So let’s look to those 2006 Clippers to see how the next two years played out.
2007 – Cassell misses 24 games due to injury, LA goes 40-42 and miss the playoffs.
2008 – Cassell and Brand play a combined 46 games (including just eight for Brand) and the Clippers go 23-59.
Not to say that the same fate awaits the Clippers today, but Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, like the Clippers before them, have both had major injuries already in their young careers. Griffin, you’ll remember, missed his entire rookie season with an injury. Paul missed almost half of the 2009-10 season with injury and has no cartilage in his right knee.
Not only that, but they’re depending heavily on starters Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups, both of whom have suffered season-ending injuries in the last two seasons. And did I mention their major acquisition this summer was signing emotionally disturbed/suddenly obese Lamar Odom? There is not a team in any sport that better personifies every possible definition of the word “fragile” than the Clippers.
Take all of that and throw in the fact that they’re in the hyper-competitive Western Conference, where MULTIPLE playoff-caliber teams will miss the playoffs, and that they play in the same city and building as the retooled Lakers, who are favorites to make the NBA Finals, and you have a recipe for disaster that the Clippers have tested and perfected for decades.
And that’s without even discussing the NBA’s new crackdown on flopping, which threatens to destroy the Flop City persona the Clippers have worked hard to perfect. I’m not even sure Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league anymore if he isn’t allowed to trick officials into a handful of bogus calls per game, nor do I know if Blake Griffin can score 20 points per game if he can’t flop his way to the foul line a few times a night.
Also, please note I haven’t even mentioned Vinny Del Negro once. Even if the Clippers experience a miracle season where all of the above goes right, Del Negro’s continued existence as Clippers head coach itself is enough to sink the team. There is not a worse head coach in the NBA, or the WNBA for that matter. The mere fact that the Clippers were better than .500 last year is truly a testament to Chris Paul’s ability to quarterback a team in spite of their horrible coach. How he wasn’t the MVP last year is beyond me.
One reason you might not be screwed: Modern medicine. There is a decent chance that the Clippers’ training and medical staff can hold this Frankenstein’s monster together with enough athletic tape to keep them healthy. If they can at least get 70+ games out of all of their starters and everyone is healthy for the playoffs, I have enough trust in the brilliance of Chris Paul that the Clippers can make a real run at a healthy Lakers team. He’s done more with less. He pushed the Lakers to six games in the first round of the 2011 playoffs with a New Orleans Hornets team that started Marco Belinelli and Trevor Ariza, for Pete’s sake! And he was hurt while he did it!
Actual season prediction: Sadly, I don’t think the Clippers get full seasons out of their top players, nor do I think they’ll fire Del Negro anytime soon. I see them starting strong, getting bit by the injury bug, and settling into a .500 season, which means missing the playoffs in the West. And because NBA players are really smart, I would expect Blake Griffin and Chris Paul both to blame the lost season on management rather than their unfortunate injuries and request trades out of LA.
Photos via Getty