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Define Your Terms

There were a couple of interesting articles in this morning's LA Times, especially when taken together.  The always insightful Mark Heisler uses the format of a letter to Donald T. Sterling to point out that the Clippers appear to have taken a step backward in their development, despite the fact that Sterling has made long term decisions and spent long term money for the first time in his tenure as the Clippers owner.  Heisler offers various explanations for the disappointing start (decreased production from Brand and Cassell, poor defense, poor shooting and a lack of development in Kaman and Livingston), but concludes that the biggest problem is the distraction caused by Maggette's situation.  

Still, he avoids the completely negative tone that is usually the default for columnists.  

At this point, I'm sure you could use some good news, so here it is, sort of:

This is now out of your hands.

You've placed your bets and they're still reasonable ones. You've finally let the professionals take charge, which means someone is finally accountable, besides you.

Now you just have to sit tight, let events run their course and see if Dunleavy can fulfill his vision.

In the meantime, your people should stop stressing about the money you'll pay next season and the finish they think the team needs this season so they can jack up ticket prices.

You've made at least $50 million in your seven seasons in Staples, probably closer to $75 million, perhaps even enough to cover all the losses in your first 15 seasons.

You're in the NBA now. These are the good times, or, at least, better ones.

Meanwhile, Jason Reid's Clippers Report focuses on Elton Brand's reaction to questions about the Clippers' season thus far.  For a couple of weeks now, EB has been telling reporters how ridiculous it is to suggest that the Clippers poor start means the Clippers' season is 'over' and of course he's right.  After 37 games, the Clippers are all of 3 games under .500 and 1.5 games away from a playoff spot.  It goes without saying that, without the anomalous success of last season, the Clippers would be thrilled to be in contention for the playoffs at any point in the season.  Moreover, with 45 games left, the idea that a team's season is 'over' when they're 1.5 games out of the playoffs is just silly.  Last season, the Bulls were 10 games below .500 with 14 left to play, finished 12-2 and made the playoffs.  

But here's why I think the articles are especially interesting taken together:  What is the goal?  Is the Clippers' season over?  Define your terms.  No, the Clippers' season is not literally over, because they have 45 games left to play.  But are they going to win the championship?  It certainly doesn't look likely, but of course if that's your definition, their season was over before it began, because no one thought they were nearly as good as Phoenix or Dallas or San Antonio.  For a franchise that has had a winning record one time in 14 years and hasn't had back to back winning seasons in 31 years (never in California), 42-40 and the 8th seed in the playoffs would still be a good season.  They need to go 25-20 in their final 45 games to reach 42-40.  That certainly seems feasible.  Yes, it would be something of a disappointment after last season, but that says something about what a good job they've done of putting together a talented roster, doesn't it?  

There are other goals of course.  One goal for Donald T. Sterling would be to make money.  By that definition the Clippers have been one of the most successful franchises in basketball since they moved into Staples, where the combination of luxury suites, a major market, a surging sport and a low payroll provided a tidy profit every year.

The only reasonable goal is to improve.  By that measure, the Clippers may take a small step backwards this year, but it will still be a step forward for the franchise if they make the playoffs.  There's always the possibility that everything will fall into place, they'll get hot, and maybe get a favorable first round matchup.  Hell, their first round opponent could always suffer a big injury - say Dallas loses Dirk in the first game.  But the odds are this team is heading for a first round exit, at best.  And we'll take that.

Meanwhile, as Heisler points out, Sterling has placed his bets and they're not bad.  They'll have to decide what to do with Shaun Livingston in the coming years, and it may be that he and Chris Kaman are NOT the elusive pieces (star-quality floor general and dominant center) on which championship teams are often built.  But the Clippers have a young nucleus, they have two first round picks in next year's draft, and they even have some assets playing in Europe.  If MDSr is a good coach, he's going to have some time to prove it.

Is this season over?  No, there are 45 games left.  Let's make the playoffs.