Since their franchise-best run to the seventh game of the Western Conference semi-finals in 2006, the Clippers have been sliding downhill fast, back to their accustomed depths in the standings. And there has been no shortage of excuses along the way.
Injuries have of course been the first, most frequent and most legitimate excuse. Of course the Clippers are not the only team to suffer injuries, nor are they the only team to use them as a reason for not meeting expectations. Both New Orleans and Boston cited injuries (many to players who were playing, but simply less than 100%) to explain their earlier than last season playoff exits. Of course, their a question of degree here - the Hornets won 49 games, the Celtics 62, and while they were a little disappointing in the playoffs to be sure, it's nothing compared to a 19 win Clipper season.
I've said many times that I felt that 07-08's injuries (to Brand, Livingston and Kaman among others) were more than enough to explain that terrible Clippers' season. As for the 08-09 season, I'm far from convinced. The Clippers were once again among the league leaders in player-games lost to injury (first two seasons ago, second last season), but the number of injuries and the nature of those injuries just doesn't explain a 19 win season. There were clearly many other problems that don't simply go away with the "just way till we're healthy" mantra.
Over the course of the last few seasons, we have heard many other excuses as well. In 06-07, it was the pre-season trip to Moscow, which was still receiving blame as late as January. By the end of last season, it seemed like conditioning was the big culprit. Never mind that in both of these cases the excuse makes little sense - many months into the NBA season, how can a bad training camp still be the problem? It's pretty obvious that the issue is systemic as opposed to circumstantial if it's still impacting you three and four months later. Players didn't report in shape? Well, an 82 game NBA season allows plenty of time to play your way into shape eventually. So it might explain a bad first month, but it can't speak to the rest of the season.
The organization as a whole has had a spotty record of fessing up to the problems of last season. Both Andy Roeser and Neil Olshey in their respective Blake Griffin press conferences, did an OK job of saying "Hey, we stunk last season, and we hope to do better, and getting the first pick helps" without resorting to a bunch of excuses.
Unfortunately, the "no excuses" policy didn't really last. Mike Dunleavy was on ESPN radio with Tirico and Van Pelt last week (Kevin posted the audio and excerpt already), and while it was OK, there was one thing that really jumped out at me. When asked why the team was so disappointing last season, this is what he said:
One of the biggest things for us last year was that we had 13 new players on our team and it wasn't really by design, it was just kinda the way things happened. That's insurmountable as far as trying to get a system in, it's a really tough thing to do. Particularly, it's not like a new coach coming in with 13 guys that's seen them play together, these are 13 guys with 13 different teams and systems, etcetera.
So it was the turnover (which certainly impacts many things, including team chemistry) that undid the team last season. In fact, it was 'insurmountable.'
But here's the thing. He's also the GM, so he's the one who turned over the roster. Now, he tries to pre-empt that somewhat by saying it 'wasn't really by design', but honestly, other than Brand pulling the rug out from under him, what was he trying to do differently? They made little or no effort to keep Maggette. After most of the roster had already turned over, they traded Brevin Knight for Jason Hart. They made no effort to retain Josh Powell or NIck Fazekas. They even waived Paul Davis in January, one of the only holdovers. And it goes without saying that less than a month into the season, while the roster featured five returning players, they traded two of them away for Zach Randolph.
Now, I'm not saying that any of these moves were necessarily wrong (with the exception of Knight for Hart trade, which I trashed at the time, but let's face facts this is a minor transaction in the big picture). It would clearly be disingenuous of me to suggest that Josh Powell or Nick Fazekas would have made a difference for the 08-09 Clippers. But isn't it even more disingenuous of MDsr to say that integrating 13 guys on a new team is 'insurmountable' without taking responsibility as the guy who brought in those 13 guys? And I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that the Brand situation was unfortunate and perhaps unavoidable - fine, he brought in 12 new guys.
It's one thing when obstacles are insurmountable. It's quite another when you put those obstacles there in the first place.