It's Been an Interesting Couple of Days in Clipper Nation

I don't always have the best instincts when it comes to this blogging thing.  Sometimes I write too often.  Sometimes I write too infrquently.  (And when I write, I almost always write too much, lacking much of an edit function.)  But at the conclusion of the Cleveland game Tuesday night, I had a feeling that I didn't need to rush into a 4000 word post, suggesting in my (relatively) brief recap that we all take the three days between games to "brood and stew and analyze to our hearts content."  And it looks like my instinct was right.

There's been an avalanche of Clippers-related output since that game, while I've mostly sat on the sidelines.  Citizen Zhiv has been at the forefront here on ClipsNation, with some piquant observations in a comment yesterday and a fascinating FanPost today, both of which have been promoted to the front page. 

ClipperBlog meanwhile has experienced a two day rennaissance borne of despair.  Kevin's output has always been less voluminous than my own, which no doubt has something to do with him having a real job (the poor sap).  (That is not a criticism of Kevin at all - just an observation.  This little site of mine benefits greatly from being the quantity Clippers blog while striving to also provide quality.  But I love Kevin's work and will happily read whatever he writes.)  Now that he's a big wig at ESPN, one wonders how he has any time at all for the 'woeful', 'hapless' Clippers.

But the loss to Cleveland triggered something.  I'll let him explain:

Tuesday night’s loss combined with the Sterling incident, and Chris’ bitching has produced a sulfurous funk, what Simmons calls the stench, around the team.  Clippers fans, with rare exceptions, are accustomed to a layer of gloom that hangs over the franchise, but most of it can be managed with a long sigh, shake of the head, and a resigned laugh.  It’s what Clippers fans do.  But something shifted overnight Tuesday, and by Wednesday afternoon, the climate had changed, even for the most patient among us.

His pain is our gain.  KA has posted three times since the end of the Cleveland game, each a captivating glimpse into the complex world that is Clipper misery.

And then there's the coverage from the worldwide leader.  J.A. Adande, the LA based former Times columnist, was of course at the game and headlined the Daily Dime with an ode to LeBron which included the de rigeur reference to the "Clippers' typical self-destructive tendencies".  Some guy named Kevin Arnovitz batted second on the Dime, making it four times since the game that he's written about it.  The Clippers even earned the honor of Tuesday's Worst on the Dime, opposite LeBron's Best:

TUESDAY'S WORST
Los Angeles Clippers: Up 19 points in the fourth quarter at home, the Clippers couldn't make the lead stand against the Cavaliers in an 87-83 loss.

Whoever said "No press is bad press" was not a Clippers' fan.

We even had the serendipitous story of KA lobbying ESPN rookie guru (he's a guru as concerns rookies, not in his first season of being a guru) David Thorpe in Boston about Eric Gordon, relayed by Henry Abbott in TrueHoop.  When Thorpe's new rookie rankings appeared, Gordon had magically moved ahead of O.J. Mayo and Thorpe opened his analysis of Gordon thusly: "Gordon has really taken center stage in this class -- he is simply outstanding as a talent."  The subtleties of this situation were lost on 99.99% of the people who read that line - but obsessing as we have lo these many months over Thorpe's disregard of Gordon, we here at ClipsNation knew that Kevin had done the FSM's work in the rafters of TD Banknorth Garden.

And then there's Bill Simmons.  More on that later.  (Let me say that ESPN apparently didn't think NBA front page on Wednesday was prominent enough for this piece and included it in Thursday's Daily Dime.  Simmons must secretly love MDsr for the inspiration and material he provides.)

What makes this all the more interesting (to me at any rate) is that this flash flood of Clippers analysis has washed over a desert of local media covereage.  The Los Angeles metro area, a megalopolis of something like 17 million people, has exactly one newspaper beat reporter covering this NBA team (Lisa Dillman of the LA Times).  When Donald Sterling made his surprise locker room visit last week, that one beat reporter was on vacation, leaving it to some guy in Cleveland to break the story.  And no one in the media has covered the season ticket holder meeting from a week earlier.   (I should also note that esrtwhile LA Daily News Clippers beat reporter and sometime blogger Ramona Shelburne re-surfaced briefly this week, for which we are thankful.)

So when Bill Simmons and J.A. Adande (and Kevin Arnovitz and Citizen Zhiv and to a lesser extent ClipperSteve) jump in to fill the void, it's terrific, if a tad disorienting, to have people writing about the Clippers.  But as a journalism student, it's worth noting the difference between the traditional roles of beat reporter, columinst, blogger and comedy writer (Simmons).  Without turning this into my master's thesis (though that is an idea), the beat reporter reports the facts, while all of the others are allowed and even encouraged to include generous amounts of opinion (and the comedy writer gets to just make stuff up, as long as it's funny.)

The Cleveland game therefore generated a ripple of facts in the Clippers-centric game recap from Lisa Dillman of the LA Times - and a tsunami of opinion. Which is great.  It's the lifeblood of a blog, so I'm certainly not complaining.  I'm just pointing out this unique media coverage situation.

Phew.  That was one long introduction.

With apologies to Zhiv, Kevin's posts are probably the most interesting to me.  Kevin and I communicate via email from time to time, and I've known for awhile that he just doesn't like Zach Randolph.  And with further apologies to Zhiv, seems to me he used to dislike Zach Randolph too, back when Z-Bo was a trade rumor and not a Clipper, but he's not the president of Club Optimism for nothing.  How was the therapy session, Zhiv?

It all brings to mind the Seinfeld monologue.  (I was able to track down the quote, but not the specific episode - anyone know?  Probably the Keith Hernandez one.  "I'm not driving him to the airport!")

Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify. Because the players are always changing, the team can move to another city-- you're actually rooting for the clothes, when you get right down to it...You are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city. Fans will be so in love with a player, but if he goes to another team they boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt; they hate him now. Boo! Different shirt, boo!

By the way, I haven't read it yet but I came across an academic paper concerning the creation of sports fan identity that uses the above Seinfeld quote as it's starting point.  One imagines it could have much to say to the readers of ClipsNation.

I've certainly wondered what I would have done if back in summer 2005 Kobe Bryant had actually signed with the Clippers.  Would Kobe have become my favorite player?  Or would I have happily taught my children's children to say "Kobe was a punk"?  I like to believe the latter, but of course I never had to make that choice.

Happily, none of the Clippers' dubious acquisitions of the past eight months have persented the same level of ambiguity for me personally.  I always liked Marcus Camby, and have questioned in writing many times why Ben Wallace was an All Pro while Camby was not.  I liked Baron Davis before he came to the Clippers (now I'm not so sure).  And though I quipped that Baron Davis, Ricky Davis and Jason Williams could form a cancer's survivor club, Williams never actually joined the team, and Ricky is the only one of the group who I ever truly disdained (and he's done little as a Clipper to make one re-consider him, so no internal conflict there).

Zach's a toughie.  The clip of him mis-handling and then launching an airball from behind the arc has been played to death as evidence of his lack of worth - FSM forbid you should ever play 6 seconds of (admittedly) terrible baskeball in the age of YouTube.  And when a smart person like Kevin Pritchard trades a guy for next to nothing, it certainly gives one pause.  After all, who better than the brain trust in Portland to determine Zach's worth?  He averaged 23.6 points and 10.1 rebounds for the Blazers his final season there - and they traded him for Channing Frye.  It's pretty clear what they thought of his statistical output versus his impact on winning games.

But perhaps because I'm a Clipper fan, I've generally tended to argue more than most that statistics do matter.  That, for instance, Elton Brand's sky high productivity was worthy of a spot on the All Star team, even if the team's record wasn't great.  So for me it's not enough to say "Zach doesn't help teams win ball games" and base that on his team's records.  I can't find a link to it, but back in 2007 I voted for Zach for the All Star game in an NBA blogger poll.  I don't want to be naive - I know that statistics aren't everything.  But he's one of the only players in the league averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, and it's not the first time he's done that.  The guy can put up numbers - and that counts for something.

Of course charater counts too, and it gets stickier there.  But let's save some of these issue for another time.

So while I don't have a major problem rooting for Zach Randolph in Clipper laundry, Z-Bo clearly presented a Kobe-esque conundrum for Kevin.  We saw where this was headed for KA back in February when Z-Bo punched Louis Amundson.  The Cleveland game (and that final play in particular) has seemingly pushed him over the edge. So put yourself in Kevin's shoes - you're not just a Clippers fan, you're a Clipper blogger, and one of the lions of the NBA blogosphere.  And you HATE - viscerally despise - the team's leading scorer and highest paid player.  That sucks.  More than just being a Clipper blogger, which I can tell you, already sucks plenty.

But I find it interesting that this one game has elicited such a strong reaction.  Obviously, the Clippers squandered a 19 point fourth quarter lead, which is, let's just say, disappointing.  But yesterday's standings told me that Cleveland was tied for the BEST record in the NBA, and the Clippers were tied for the second WORST record in the NBA.  So looked at another way, the Clippers had the lead in the final 30 seconds against an NBA power.  It goes without saying that we would feel very differently about that game had it been tight the whole way, or if the Clippers had trailed all game, even if the final score were identical.  So sure, it's disconcerting that the Clippers have faded under some fourth quarter pressure the last two games.  But it's worth pointing out that Indiana (still fighting for a playoff spot in the East) and Cleveland (fighting for home court advantage) both had something BIG to play for.  Is it a good thing that the Clippers didn't respond to there desperate intensity?  No.  Is it surprising?  Not particularly, no.  After the Indiana game, I chose to bury my head and focus only on the first 41 minutes of basketball, during which the Clippers looked terrific.  Well, for 37 minutes Tuesday, the Clippers dismantled a team that many think can win the title this season.  That's not nothing.

As for the final shot, it was obviously bad.  Really, really bad.  But was it that much worse than Marcus Camby shooting a three against Denver back in December?  Or Baron Davis on countless end of clock situations?  Hell, even the shot Baron made against Portland to force OT was a bad shot - it just happened to go in.  Clearly Zach's decision was not worse than Al Thornton running the entirely wrong play on the final possession in Chicago.  Zach's shot was really bad because he had some time and he didn't try very hard to improve his situation.  But we've seen plenty of really bad final shots around these parts.  The emailer at the end of Simmons' column that says "I think Randolph's 3 might have been the single dumbest thing I've ever seen a professional athlete do during a game" must not have watched a lot of professional sports.  We can rule out the Chris Webber time out since he wasn't a professional at the time (oh no wait, he was).  How about starting your touchdown dance before getting into the end zone and consequently getting run down and fumbling the ball?  Ever seen an NBA player fail to even get a shot off before the final buzzer down two?  Ever seen an NBA player take a two with time expiring and his team down three?  I've seen those things, lots and lots of times and they're much dumber than what Zach did, on a pure intelligence scale.  Zach's play was lazy and obviously ineffective - but it wasn't monumentally dumb.

The Clippers lost the game because they became complacent and because the greatest player on the planet wanted them to lose.  Here's the thing: after holding Cleveland to 17, 17 and 18 in the first three quarters of the game, the Cavs put up 35 in the final quarter - more than double their quarterly average to that point.  Complacency?  Let's see, we're ahead by 17 with one quarter left, and our defense has held them to 17.3 points per quarter so far.  It's not the least bit surprising that they were walking the ball up - they were absolutely certain that all they had to do was continue playing defense and they would win the game.  It's almost always a mistake to think that way, as it was this time.  But again, not overly surprising.

And by the way, I didn't think their defense in the last quarter was that poor.  There were a few bad plays: the pick and roll where Z got a layup because Randolph had his head turned and didn't rotate; the missed box out by Eric Gordon on Booby Gibson. (Gordon complained after that play that he was pushed by Gibson, which frankly pissed me off all the more - you've got like 40 pounds on Gibson and could bench press him - here's an idea, box out, hold your position, and get the damn rebound.  I'm fine with EJ losing Rookie of the Year for his lackluster rebounding alone.)  On the winning three pointer, the Clippers played dare I say great defense until the final rotation - Baron and Thornton failed to communicate and both closed on Gibson when one of them should have gone to the wide open Mo Williams.  But for anyone who thinks it's easy stopping LeBron James, go back and review what happened in the 2007 playoffs against the Pistons.  Oh, and the Pistons actually had something to play for in that one, whereas the Clippers get more ping pong balls for losing.

Still 53 hours to go before tip off in Denver.  Keep chewing on it, but let's hope no one has to actually chew their arm off to get out of this Clippers trap.  I'm not sure who's going to get to the point-by-point Sports Guy rebuttal - me or Citizen Zhiv.  But I know it's coming.  We have time.

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