Not surprisingly, a number of pundits are expecting that the Clips will descend quickly into chaos and that things will get quite ugly. As in, truly ugly, uglier than they ever were as long as Saint FElton was there to keep a steady hand on the tiller. Leaving out, of course, the fact that FElton didn't play last year and his performance took a notable dip in the 06-07 season, but those are minor quibbles.
I actually kind of like these pronouncements and the way that they lower expectations to the very bottom. And it's fun to pick out the inconsistencies. But with that said, there's still apparently no way to escape the "It's the Clippers" refrain. Is it just me, or are there other teams that have performed worse over the last three years, once you factor in losing a franchise player for the season due to injury?
But let's get to those inconsistencies.
The Nuggets did beat out the Cllps. Maybe that's because they're looking like an absolute train wreck, with a pair of stars who haven't gelled together and all sorts of other problems. A bad defensive team got rid of their two best defensive players. The stars, Melo and AI, are more than a little bitter about the team shedding Camby, who made huge contributions with rebounding and shot-blocking, for nothing, while the less-than-formidable Martin and Nene are still around and still making big money.
But while Camby's veteran presence and productivity is sorely missed on the Nuggets, it apparently doesn't count for much on the Clippers. Despite the fact that Camby is a more productive rebounder and shot-blocker than FElton, and that Denver's star players will sorely miss his professionalism and locker-room influence, he can't replace Brand and the team could be headed for real trouble. Camby can be a strong, helpful presence with AI and Melo, but it appears he won't have the same effect on Baron Davis and Kaman, Thornton, and others. Curious.
The big argument favoring Clipper turmoil is the fact that Baron Davis is a maverick, while MDunleavy is a buttoned-up control freak. It is kind of interesting that GSW didn't get any "turmoil" votes, but I guess a team that loses its best player and then loses his replacement, which still has no center or viable interior presence, might be bad but will still be relatively happy because Don Nelson's the coach and they're going to be jacking up shots. There were no votes for GSW, so I guess losing Baron Davis won't really affect them, and we don't get the chance to discuss how the good qualities that will be missed on GSW won't have the same effect on the Clippers. Too bad. Maybe there weren't any, like the way he scored tons of points and took over games and hit big shots and became unstoppable in the playoffs. GSW still has the Camby and Brand-like mature, steadying influence of Stephen Jackson, so they definitely should be fine and easygoing when things get tough.
About that Baron Davis/Dunleavy thing: yes, there's a chance that Dunleavy could put on his stubborn face and decide that his new franchise player doesn't know how to play basketball and lead him to the doghouse, and things could get very bad. But I happen to think that chance is exceedingly small, for a number of reasons. First, Davis signed with the Clippers as a choice. Dunleavy wooed him and supervised the deal. Davis has been in the league long enough to know Dunleavy very well. Davis is from LA and he knows the town and the Clippers. So if he thought that the team and the coach were poison and that there were bound to be conflicts, he wouldn't have made the deal. Of course, there's a major FElton complication in all of this, because it seems that Davis' primary intent may have been to play with FElton. But it turns out that it wasn't--his most basic intent was to make a good 5-year deal and come home and play for the Clippers. The given in playing for the Clippers is playing for Dunleavy, and in the end FElton was less than reliable. Dunleavy and the Clippers have backed up their commitment to Davis by working hard to put the best team possible together during the offseason, using their capspace on Camby, making an offer to Buike, signing RDavis, JWill, Skinner and others. It's been a strong show of support. And with all of the moves and the veterans the Clips are still major capspace players for 2010, with substantial expiring contracts for next season. Dunleavy, who is the primary architect for all this, is doing everything possible to build a highly competitive team around Baron Davis.
So, naturally, Dunleavy is going to treat him badly and try to mold him into his kind of player. The naysayers aren't factoring in how generous Dunleavy has been with the veterans that he has signed or brought in. Maybe you have to be a close Clipper watcher like we are to have this kind of understanding, but the pundits are, after all, professionals. Dunleavy treats his veterans extremely well. Dunleavy gave Maggette and Wilcox a very hard time, but he inherited those guys. Cassell and Mobley were both malcontents and gunners, with much more problematic reputations and skillsets than Davis. Dunleavy made Cassell his on-court partner and gave him the widest latitude imaginable, and Mobley has been transformed into an upstanding, model veteran citizen. While Wilcox was dismissed, Tim Thomas has been able to play his game with a free will and log a couple thousand smiling minutes of little defense, no rebounding, and hundreds of missed 3-pt shots, with Dunleavy as his strong defender throughout. Dunleavy may be stubborn, but he's stubbornly loyal in supporting "his" guys. And Baron Davis is going to be his guy--if you think that Dunleavy was effusive in his praise and faith in FElton and Cassell, just wait to see how he treats BD.
But hey, it's the Clippers. So of course there's going to be turmoil. What am I thinking?