All good Clipper fans have two blogs bookmarked: ClipsNation and Clipperblog. Kevin Arnovitz began writing Clipperblog in early 2006, a couple months before I started blogging about the Clippers myself. Over three years later, a lot has changed in the NBA blogosphere, and I don't think either or us had any idea what we were getting into. But if I'm half the blogger Kevin is, then the Clippers as a team don't deserve the quality blogging they inspire. I've always loved Kevin's work (no one writing about the NBA in any medium breaks down plays better) and we see each other at Clipper games and talk from time to time. But we've never collaborated on the blogs - until now. When we ran into each other at the Clippers training facility the day after the lottery, we dove into a discussion about the team and realized that it was good stuff that our collective communities would lap up with a spoon. We thought about just firing up the digital recorders then and there, but decided that maybe an email exchange would be more accessible. This series, which will play out over the next week or so, is the result.
The conversation so far: Part One
From: Steve Perrin
To: Kevin Arnovitz
Date: June 4, 2009
There are lots of points I want to touch on from your email, but I'll first try to answer your specific question. What is that hypothetical sentence about the 09-10 Clippers (and I'm going to assume that you're hoping it doesn't include the word dysfunctional in that 'ideal world')? I asked the Magic Eight Ball; he said "Reply hazy" and I have to agree. Assuming this ideal world doesn't include unicorns and leprechauns, then we can rule out Chris Kaman and Zach Randolph making the all star team, right? Let's call it a semi-realistic ideal world. For all the talk of increasing the tempo, it's pretty difficult to confuse a team with a Mike D'Antoni team. So while Baron Davis has been best in free flowing systems, and Eric Gordon, Al Thornton and Blake Griffin would all thrive filling a lane, I'm just not hopeful it's going to happen. The one thing that we certainly should be able to expect as fans, and that has nothing to do with wishful thinking, is better effort. Davis was clearly going through the motions last season, and it permeated the entire team. As I've been watching the playoffs, I've been struck more than anything by how damn hard these teams are working - in Denver's case, for whatever reason, they let down in Game 6 and got blown out. The rest of the playoffs, they just worked their butts off and looked like the best team in the NBA much of the time because of it. It's one thing to know when and where you're supposed to rotate - it's quite another to dig deep and close out as fast and as hard as you can despite the fact that you're already exhausted. That's what I saw Denver do, and I don't think I saw five Clippers do that all year (with the possible exception of when those five Clippers really had no business getting significant NBA minutes to begin with). Obviously, it's not unusual that playoff teams are working hard with so much more on the line - and therein lies a little glimmer of hope, in a perverse way. The Clippers had nothing to play for from about as early in last season as is possible, and it showed. So at a minimum, I'd like to see a team playing with purpose. I remain concerned that the personnel is not particularly well-suited to the coach, but with the current coach it seems more likely that the purpose will manifest itself on the defensive end first. The realistic best case scenario at that point becomes an exciting young team playing good defense, led by a point guard determined to re-assert his NBA bona fides, and running opportunistically.
Readers of ClipperBlog like myself were witnesses to your crisis - your heart was on your sleeve. And you weren't the only one. It's amazing how many die hard Clipper fans, who've been through terrible season after terrible season, finally reached their breaking point on this one (or at least said they did - the very fact that they're Clipper fans makes me suspect that they'll be back). The burden of increased expectations that came with the 2006 playoffs has a lot to do with it, I suspect. The next season was disappointing, but they still won 40 games (the team's fourth best win total in their LA history after all). The next season was all about Elton Brand's injury, and everyone put their hopes for the team on hold one more year. But this season - this was the realization that the ineptitude was back, probably for awhile. The Leno punchlines, the "It's the Clippers" stories... and of course it didn't help that the Lakers were back at the top of the Conference.
But it's more than that. The Staples Center incarnations of the Clippers have been made up for the most part of genuinely likeable players. Elton Brand was too good to be true (as we later found out). Corey Maggette, for all his faults, never took a possession off. Cassell, Mobley, Livingston, Ross, Simmons, even Mikki Moore and Rick Brunson - these were good guys. The unprecedented roster turnover this season left us with an entirely different team. And a few of them were decidedly unlikeable, at least on the surface, led by Zach Randolph and Ricky Davis. If ever there was a team that tested Seinfeld's "Rooting for clothes" premise, it was the 08-09 Clippers.
I don't think it's a "fair weather" thing at all, at least not in the traditional sense. Normally, that would be about wins and losses. But you're in it for the basketball. In the early part of this decade, when Shaq and Kobe were winning rings with the Lakers, the Clippers were winning 30 some games a season. But the Lakers were just terrible to watch - all Shaq pounding people or Kobe going one-on-one. The "fair weather" fan would have been watching the Lakers, but we were watching the Clippers. (The irony here is that the Kobe-Gasol Lakers are actually a very entertaining team to watch.)
But we could probably spend months on the psyche of the Clipper fan and not get anywhere. Here's hoping they give us something worth watching next season. I'm not sure I can say much more that that at this point without getting depressed. The elephant in the room on all of this is that we're not just garden-variety fans any more, you and me - we're bloggers now. If we get fed up with the Clippers, what do we do? Do we just turn the blog over to Zhiv?
Speaking of a more watchable incarnation of the team, when we spoke the day after the draft, the conversation immediately migrated in the direction of the "glue guy", which is something the Clippers seem to be sorely missing. I actually like Al Thornton a lot, but with Gordon and Randolph and Davis and Kaman (not to mention Griffin), it seems to me that the Clippers now have a scoring three, who does little else, who is arguably their fifth scoring option in the starting lineup. That's not a good thing. So if I'm the GM, I'm out looking for a "glue guy" to start at the three, and moving Thornton to the bench (or packaging him to get the "glue guy" if necessary). Free agent Trevor Ariza seems like an ideal candidate, and we'd save on relocation costs. Jamario Moon is another free agent that comes to mind, or maybe Josh Childress is tired of gyros. Or Chris Kaman for Tayshaun Prince was brought up in a recent HoopsWorld chat. Who would be your ideal "glue guy"? And what the heck is a "glue guy" anyway?