Finally, the much-anticipated ClipperSteve response to the stories in today's LA Times.
Unfortunately, I'm coming to the party a little late. Before I'd even had a chance to read TJ Simers' column, much less post about it, the column had already generated a Diary from Citizen Zhiv and a slew of comments on an innocuous post about Al Thornton, which happened to be at the top of the main page at the time.
As it happens, when I read Jonathan Abrams' recap of the game yesterday I noticed a theme that seems to be recurring in the Simers piece as well as on ClipsNation to a lesser extent. And I find it strange. People (players, coaches, owners, reporters and citizens) are getting frustrated, and making comments borne of that frustration. Which makes me wonder... why now?
Hell, the team is 2-2 in their last 4. They were 10-23 (.303) at that point, and they're 12-25 now (.324). They're en friggin' fuego. Break up the Clippers!
People are just now figuring out that the team isn't going to make the playoffs? Really? Were they MORE likely to make the playoffs a week ago than they are now? Hardly.
So again I ask, why now?
Frankly, I think there is a circumstantial factor at play here. The Clippers played a Monday matinee yesterday on the MLK holiday. It is the only non-weekend matinee of the season. The vast majority of games are played at night. Even a 7:00 PM ET tip off (that's only 4 PM here) is ending at 6:30 PT. Abrams has to write his recap, file it, and get some sleep (or get to the next city on the road trip) since he is after all in that Eastern time zone when he's writing. He barely gets second half details into the recap, forget about in depth interviews. On the other hand, a Saturday or Sunday matinee is a strange affair. Even reporters probably like to have their weekends to themselves a little. No one wants to hang around Staples working on a story at 3:00 on Sunday.
But a Monday? That's different. Maybe I'm way off base here, but I get the impression that Abrams and Simers asked these questions and wrote this stuff because they had nothing better to do. Maybe not - but I find the timing interesting.
That's not to say that it's all invalid. It just goes the question of why now.
Let's look at a few direct quotes and read between the lines a little.
Easily the most disconcerting thing I read after this game. 'The usual Clipper thing?' This from your 25 year old center who is signed for 4 more years at 7 figures per? Let's be clear - the Buffalo Braves moved to San Diego before Chris Kaman was born. The team moved to LA when he was three. By contrast, he was an actual part of the best Clippers team of all time. If your 25 year old center who was in the Western Conference semis 21 months ago is referring readily to a culture of losing, this is a BIG problem.
This one is interesting for a couple of reasons. For one thing, Sterling didn't say 'Elgin Baylor and Mike Dunleavy' - that's why the names are in brackets. He said 'they' or 'team management' or some such. Now, I'm sure Simers verified at some level that DTS meant these two, and not, say, Andy Roeser. But the mention of Elgin Baylor is pretty laughable. Elgin Baylor has been the Clippers GM since 1986. Every other team in the league has changed GM's a minimum of 3000 times while the Clippers have lost more games than they played during Baylor's tenure (I didn't check those facts, but they certainly feel true). If you haven't fired Elgin Baylor yet, why start now? Any way, based on the rest of the article, he's clearly only talking about MDsr.
Not good. The worst possible thing he could have said in response to a question about the owner's frustration. The equivalent on the grade school playground would be 'He started it!' Very mature. There are so many things wrong with this statement. 'I saw this coming?' What? Elton Brand's ruptured Achilles? And if indeed you saw that coming, and you feel the veto 'contributed to where we are now', does that mean that you were planning to trade Elton Brand? Or maybe it was Shaun Livingston. Of course, it is widely believed that it was MDsr himself who made Livingston 'untouchable' in Iverson trade talks. Maybe that isn't true - but I bet it is.
Worst of all, this sort of 'if they'd only done what I said everything would be better' line of thinking is wildly irresponsible. No one knows where the team would be had they listened. It's simplistic and disingenuous (not to mention counter productive) to decree that his recommendations were absolutely correct in hindsight. Furthermore, where's the individual responsibility? 'Well, we got nothing out of the 2005 draft and that's unfortunate. I really screwed the pooch on that Korolev pick.' Cowboy up man. Look in the mirror.
'Mr. Sterling? Yes, sir. I have reality on line one. Should I tell him you're in a meeting?'
'We can absolutely win this year.' Win what? Win a game? OK, true statement. Win enough games to make the playoffs? Let's do a little math exercise, shall we? The Clippers are 12-25. There are 45 games left. They would have to win 29 and lose only 16 to finish at 41-41. There are at least two things you have to know about that. 29-16 is a .644 winning percentage. The 05-06 Clippers, with a healthy Elton Brand, the best Clippers team in history, had a .573 winning percentage. Over and above that, there are 10 teams in the Western Conference over .500 at this point in the season. To make it to the eighth best winning percentage (i.e. to make the playoffs without counting on the other teams to stop winning), the Clippers would need to finish 48-34, requiring them to go 36-9 over these last 45 games. That's an even .800 winning percentage - better than any team in the Western Conference. And did I mention that Elton Brand isn't expected to play in at least a third of those games? The idea of making the playoffs requires the assumption that the Clippers will play significantly better than they ever have in the existence of the franchise. I suppose it might happen. And monkeys might fly out of my butt. Attaching words like 'absolutely' to this concept is just silly.
'Mr. Sterling? Yes, it's reality again. He says it's urgent. Still in a meeting? Yes sir, I'll tell him.'
As I said in a comment earlier today, sometimes an excuse is an excuse, and sometimes it's the actual explanation. I'm great with statements like 'We have to play our best and compete regardless of the circumstances,' but it's simply silly to imply that the season hasn't been scuttled by injuries. Maybe there are other problems as well. But the injuries were enough. 'What you have to do is bring in new players?' Actually, there are rules. You can't bring in new players who make more than the mid-level exception. And, as it happens, players who don't make more than the mid-level exception are not as good as Elton Brand, who makes the maximum, three times as much.
The 'everybody has injuries' thing is true - to a certain extent. Yes, every team suffers injuries at some point in their existence. And if they do, they don't win the NBA Championship. Find me an NBA Champion that experienced significant injuries during the playoffs. You can't do it. Find me an NBA Champion who's best player (hell, I'll be generous and open it up to one of their best three players) missed more than half the season. You can't do that either. Miami is the best example since the NBA/ABA merger of a team that overcame injuries and still won a title - and Shaq played 59 games that season. That's almost 3/4 of the regular season, and all the playoffs. And it's probably three times the number of games that Elton Brand will play this season.
So I repeat, yes, everybody has injuries. And when they have significant and severe injuries, they lose. Let's deal in truths here.
But I'm prepared to do whatever is necessary to win. - Donald T. Sterling
Well what do you know? He finally took that phone call.
A business reporter from the New York Times called me the other day to ask about Sterling. Why, you ask? He was trying to get some insights into the sometimes bizarre behavior of the Clippers' owner, and no one with any actual knowledge of the man would talk to him. So he figured he could at least start with a longtime Clippers fan. I found his decision to talk to me dubious at best, but I was only to happy to offer my totally uninformed opinion.
It's hard to explain the Sports Arena years. Earlier versions of the NBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement were less specific about piddling details like minimum payrolls. Still, it's hard to imagine the team could have been spending so little that they were making money with me and 12 other guys attending the games. According to Forbes Magazine, they lost $15M their last season in the Sports Arena, and $5M the season before that. I've never seen numbers from earlier.
From the minute they moved into Staples, they've been profitable - $10M the first season of 99-00, peaking at $22M in 03-04. The trend is moving back down now that their team payroll is moving up. Bear in mind, in 03-04 they were still losing. Their profits were $16M the season they made the playoffs, 05-06. (I've been told that a home playoff game is worth about $1M, but that doesn't ring true. They hosted 6 games that season, and their payroll hadn't really risen that much. If those playoff games were worth an extra $6M on the bottom line, then $16M doesn't seem like enough profit.)
After the move to Staples, DTS was laughing all the way to the bank. He had inventory in the shiny new building in town (so what if the seats were purple and the Clippers chose after the Lakers and Kings in scheduling dates?). He had luxury box revenue. He even had one of those, twice a decade 'young and talented with lots of exciting players oozing potential' Clipper rosters. Selling merchandise, sharing record TV revenues - and the new bonanza of being REWARDED with a distribution of luxury tax money simply for being cheap which he already was - the Clippers were one of the most profitable teams in the league. Lots of teams had much higher revenues - but in terms of return on investment, the Clippers were the tops.
When the team re-signed Corey Maggette and Elton Brand, it was a major sign of change. But we often forget that they DIDN'T re-sign Lamar Odom or Andre Miller or Michael Olowokandi or Eric Piatkowski that same summer. I know, the citizens of ClipsNation are by and large happy with the choices made, but I just want to point out that 2 out of 6 is not a very high percentage.
But in 05-06, when 'money spent' began to equate to 'playoff games', it seems like DTS got the fever. I've wondered if he would revert to league minimum payroll and perennial doormat given the major disappointments of the last two seasons. In the Simers column, at least he's saying that he won't. So that's good news.
But we all need to calm down. Injuries matter. The coach, in year 1 of a 4 year extension, gets a 'get out of jail free' card for their current record. That's just how it is. The team improved significantly in each of his first 3 seasons at the helm (and backslid last season, to be sure). The team has completely transformed on the defensive end in his tenure, which cannot be denied. When it looked like he was completely wrong about Chris Kaman last season, I would have been much more inclined to throw him under the bus. But hey, guess what? He was right about that guy! Let the poor slob get EB and K2 on the floor together before running him out of town.
It's not news that the Clippers are going to miss the playoffs. If everyone is upset about it, great, get to work on fixing it for the future.
But the future includes a lottery pick, not the playoffs, in 2008. That's reality on line one.