It's entirely possible that I'm reading too much into this, but the injury to Elton Brand seems to have affected some of the citizens of ClipsNation in a way I did not anticipate. There is a contingent, perhaps small but nonetheless out there, who have been energized by the situation. Given the importance of Brand to the team, my own immediate inclination was to despair, and without question there are plenty of citizens in that Clipper boat as well. But then I started to think about it, and suddenly it all made sense.
I would submit that 05-06 was the greatest season in the history of the Clippers, and that 06-07 was the worst. This is only my opinion of course, though most would agree that coming within a game of the Western Conference Semis qualifies 05-06 as the franchise's high water mark. But how could 40-42 represent the worst season when we're talking about a team that has won fewer than 20 games on six different occasions, including as recently as 2000? The answer is simple: expectations. There has never been a Clippers' team with higher expectations than last year. Sure, in 92-93 we thought they could be good (and they didn't really disappoint, finishing at .500 and making the playoffs). And 10 years later in 02-03 we had high hopes for Kandi, Brand, Odom, Maggette and Miller. But those expectations were to maybe make the playoffs - last year we were planning for top 4 in the West, hoping for even better than that. ClipsNation is entirely accustomed to mediocrity. But let's face it: the team has traditionally had to overachieve just to get to mediocre. It's an entirely different experience to underachieve, and some of us didn't know what to do with that feeling.
When Bill Fitch won 17 games in 97-98, I told anyone who would listen that he deserved to be the NBA Coach of the Year. Seriously. 17 wins with that group? Lamond Murray and Rodney Rogers are your two best players?
With Shawn Livingston and Elton Brand out indefinitely, the Clippers are in very familiar territory. No one expects them to do well. And for some fans, those low expectations are comfort food: the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese of the NBA off-season. It's not any good, but we grew up eating it.
There's something to be said for being better than expectations, if not actually any good. I've never understood how anyone could root for the Yankees. So what if you win the World Series? Weren't you supposed to win the World Series? Where's the pride in rooting for a team with a payroll three times the league average?
The simple fact of the matter is we're NBA fans in LA - if we wanted the easy way out, we'd root for the purple and gold. (OK, so it's not really so easy right now, but there was a time when it was easy for them.) We're Clipper fans not necessarily in spite of the low expectations, but very often because of them. We support underdogs. We would never jump on a bandwagon (which is why so many Clipper fans are transplants who chose the Clippers over the Lakers), and last season we started to see some trombones and maybe a flugelhorn in a minivan, if not exactly a wagon. To then fall far short of those expectations was particularly painful, and a different kind of pain to which we were wholly unaccustomed.
So by this reasoning, the season will be a success as long as it exceeds expectations. The key therefore is to make sure that expectations are as low as possible.
With a probable opening day lineup of Chris Kaman, Tim Thomas, Corey Maggette, Cat Mobley and a soon to be 38 year old Sam Cassell, my expectations are pretty damn low. Perfect. Pass the Mac and Cheese, please.