HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 19: The sunsets during the NASCAR Nationwide Series Ford 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 19, 2011 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
The Clippers acquired Chris Paul the other day. And everybody's really happy. Except me. Oh I like Paul well enough, and I think this was a great deal for the organization and I think it will be really fun to watch the Clips and I'm pretty sure this is a good thing. But something's wrong. The other night when much of my Clipsnation brethren were doing cartwheels and shooting off fireworks, I did not participate. I couldn't. I can't. I'm coming around I think, but it's gonna take me a few minutes. I'm still trying to figure out why.
At first I thought my reluctance to celebrate was because I thought the Clippers paid too much. But I knew, if Chris Paul came in, Eric Gordon had to go. The money isn't going to work out, I get it. Or was it the Minnesota draft pick? I loved owning that pick, but Adelman's up in Minny now and... it's a draft pick, a crap shoot. Okay, maybe it was because I felt bad for the traded players. They'd apparently been told that they were off the trading block. Kaman's used to it I suppose, he's been the subject of trade rumors for years now. But Eric Gordon is special. He was our foundation piece, he was the guy, who when he showed up here three years ago, allowed us to feel okay about ourselves again... after the damning events of the years before, after Elton Brand ran away in the middle of the night, after the horrific injury to Shaun Livingston, which still flashes across the landscape of the collective Clipper brain and wakes us up in a terrible sweat. He didn't seem to know it but Eric Gordon was a bit of a savior. Remember our reaction the first time we saw that perfect stroke or how it felt when we realized that with his long arms and speed, he played far larger than his listed six-foot-three? Eric Gordon was a tonic, a glass of cool water in the endless desert of Clipper fandom.
Then Blake Griffin arrived, and though we had to put the dream on hold for a year, that was alright, because we were building something. Neil Olshey, the guy who'd taken the reins from the other guy, kept reiterating it, we're building something. Slowly, steadily. We've got some pieces, we'll get more. There were mistakes of course, the baffling trade of Marcus Camby, the heavy-handed expulsion of Baron Davis. But, the front office told us there's a method here. We're adding to our flexibility. We're staying the course, we're shaping the future. And, of course, we had a wonderful secret hidden in our pocket: We had Minnesota's first round draft pick that would finally become due in 2012. We laughed giddily, maniacally as the Timberwolves floundered, as their management flopped and sweated and pursued boneheaded trades and baffling acquisitions. As one high level college player after another withdrew from the 2011 draft, fearing a long labor squabble, the value of the pick grew and grew. The "Minny Pick" became a weapon of great value... unknowable, but tantalizing, and envied.
The lockout was a lingering drag, but we knew the Clippers were on the path. Finally, just two weeks ago, the union and the owners came to an agreement and we watched the front office finally go into action. We were hopeful but unsure, the Clippers have long suffered under their parsimonious and phlegmatic ownership. What would happen? Will Neil Olshey have the power, the ability, and wherewithal to shape this team into something worthwhile? Within days we had answers. First the Clippers brought in Caron Butler. Oh, yeah, they might have overpaid, but for myself and others, signing Butler was a good sign... the Clippers were willing to spend. Then the team matched DeAndre Jordan's offer sheet. Expensive. Too expensive? Maybe, but another indicator that management and ownership were serious about lifting the franchise into respectability: We're building from the ground up. We're stacking pieces, we're walking the walk. One foot in front of the other. It sounded like the truth.
Of course rumors were swirling. A couple of superstars were unhappy. There were deals on the table. There were deals removed from the table. Neil Olshey was playing cards, sure, but it seemed like he was only half-involved. At one point, he walked away from the card table when the asking price got too rich. He left the game, went outside and somehow lifted Chauncey Billups off a pile of detritus. We were delighted. Billups might be the missing piece, the piece that would bring experience and steadiness to a Clipper ship that was not quite ready for the high seas.
And, to me, to most of us, it was enough. We had added the necessary pieces. We were building on our solid core that had started with Eric Gordon and we were sticking to the plan. We had some young, developing pieces, we had some nice experienced players, we had the Minny pick, and our bench looked deep and strong. We couldn't wait until the season started. And Neil Olshey assured us that he was done, that talk of a bigger deal, a bigger trade was over. The price was too high.
And then it happened.
Suddenly Eric Gordon, the hope, the tonic, was gone. Chris Kaman, clever and charming, gone. The Minny pick, the golden ticket? Gone. We were changing tracks, moving off our carefully planned out evolutionary voyage and getting into the express lane. Chris Paul is coming to town. Chris Paul, who, according to ESPN, is the fourth best player in the league is coming to the Clippers. And from this moment on, everything is different. He and Blake Griffin hope to form one of the best big-man, small-man combos in the league. And it seems utterly possible. But now we've left the course, the carefully planned, slowly-rising bubble lifting us out of hell... that's gone.
I don't want anyone to think I'm unhappy. I'm not. I was stunned by the trade. I will miss Eric Gordon and what he represented. I will miss Chris Kaman. I will remain a fan of both. I'm happy that they get to go to New Orleans, a great city, and they get to play for Monty Williams, one of the fine young coaches in the game. I will miss the slow track, I will miss the patient rise from the depths.
Now the new Clipper ship is out on the launch pad, and everyone's waiting. There's a few of us huddled in the old terminal, holding stale cups of coffee. It's cold now and they're telling us to leave. We're wondering if this isn't a little too fast, a little too soon. In a minute I'm gonna climb to my feet, walk across the tarmac and I'm gonna get on board. This isn't a bubble anymore. This is a rocket ship. It's big, and its scary. Coming? Of course I'm coming. Just don't rush me.