I usually try to avoid playing the 'Clippers get no respect' card. At any rate, I play it less than I could. I perceive slights all over the place, but it just smacks of the worst kind of homerism to complain about such things. And besides, the Clippers have done little over the years to earn anyone's respect, and much to lose it. So to say that the Clippers get no respect is particularly uninteresting - it's a given.
But every once in awhile something so egregious happens that it can't be ignored. This is one of those occasions.
The NBA released the ballot for the 2010 All Star Game today, and the Clippers' two leading scorers, Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon, were not included among the 120 names listed. This is the ballot they use for the fan voting to pick the All Star Game starters, so in the end, it doesn't much matter, since neither Chris Kaman nor Eric Gordon was going to be voted to start the All Star Game this season. But the level of inattention to the team is nonetheless astounding.
The timing is particularly strange given that the league announced yesterday that Kaman was the Western Conference Player of the Week last week. Apparently on Monday he was the best player in the conference, but on Tuesday he was not among the best 60 players in the conference. That's quite a precipitous fall.
So what are some potential explanations for this?
Was the ballot designed before the season started, making these types of gaffes inevitable? That would indeed seem to be the case, given the presence on the ballot of role players like Ramon Sessions (21 minutes per game) and Antonio McDyess (18 minutes per game) and Anthony Randolph (20 minutes per game). Of course, this begs the larger question - why? I assume that a paper ballot still exists, and I understand why you need some lead time to print those - you need time to kill the trees, after all. But the VAST majority of the votes these days are cast on the web, and the form is easily modified. It doesn't have to match the printed form. Nor does it necessarily have to be limited to 60 names per conference. Why, in a medium that is virtually limitless, are they limiting themselves? More importantly, how could they get it so embarrassingly wrong? You'd think when they were sending the press release about Kaman yesterday, that they might have thought to task some HTML programmer with the 5 minute job of adding him to the list of Western Conference centers.
Is there some sort of rule against too many players from one team at one position? If that were the case, then the presence of Marcus Camby on the ballot as a center would explain the absence of Chris Kaman. The only problem is, it's not true. Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace of the Celtics are both listed as centers in the East, and Ron Artest, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom of the Lakers are all listed as forwards in the west. Then again, we are talking about the Celtics and the Lakers, so they probably have special rules for those teams.
Were there simply better choices available, names the NBA simply couldn't leave off? Hardly. Among the 12 Western Conference Centers on the ballot are the aforementioned McDyess, a nice enough player who comes off the Spurs bench for 18 minutes per game so far, and Spencer Hawes, who has career averages of 8 points and 5 rebounds per game. Just for grins, have a look at Kaman, Hawes and McDyess side-by-side-by-side. As for Western Conference guards, Gordon's name was not among the 24 listed, but Ramon Sessions and Tracy McGrady were. Ask yourself this - if Ramon Sessions had signed with the Clippers, would he have supplanted Eric Gordon? Um, no. Do the people designing the ballot not understand that?
I assume in fact that there is some sort of minimum representation rule in place. Sacramento and Minnesota both have only three players on the ballot, and in Sacto's case, two of them look suspect (Hawes at center and Jason Thompson at forward). So that might explain the presence of some of the stranger names. But it certainly doesn't explain McDyess, given that there are four other Spurs are on the ballot.
While the omission of Kaman is the more ironic today, given the Player of the Week announcement yesterday, it is actually the omission of Gordon that makes me more indignant. I am assuming that, however antiquated and unneceassary, timing has played a role in the ballot we see. So while it's painfully obvious after the events of the first two weeks of the season that Kaman should be on the ballot, given that he in fact should be in the running to actually start in a just world, one has to assume that it is equally obvious to the league and that the ballot was finalized before the season started. It's stupid, but I'm working from that premise. Kaman has missed the majority of the past two seasons - so maybe you leave him off. It's still insane - the guy has put up borderline all star numbers when he's been healthy, and he was healthy heading into this season, so it was still a bad decision. But it pales in comparison to the decision to omit Gordon.
I spent a lot of time and pixels last year talking about how Eric Gordon was in fact better than O.J. Mayo or Russell Westbrook, despite getting less publicity. In the end, Gordon got some of the respect he deserved - finishing fifth in the rookie of the year race (behind both Mayo and Westbrook), but failing to make the first team all-rookie team (he was on the second team). Unlike the other top rookies, Gordon was not in the Clippers rotation to begin the season. His performance after becoming a starter were not just better, but much better than Mayo or Westbrook. Amazingly, in a league where scoring gets you noticed, somehow Gordon was under the radar as he averaged over 19 points per game in the last 4 months of the season - at the age of 20.
Looking at the 2009 ROY voting, seven of the top eight vote getters are on the All Star ballot as sophomores - the lone exception being Gordon. Even Courtney Lee, a second year player who received a total of 2 points in the ROY voting is on the ballot (though that may be another minimum thing, given New Jersey's roster). And then there's
Randolph, a player who apparently got onto the ballot on the strength of his SUMMER LEAGUE play. Nice. In all, there are ten second year players on the ballot (the last one is Greg Oden, don't get me started on that). And none of them are named Eric Gordon.
It smacks of people simply not paying attention because, you know, "it's the Clippers." EJ was clearly going to be better this season, he was clearly going to be featured heavily in the offense - heck, you'd think the NBA would be aware of a 20 year old burgeoning star in the second largest media market in the country. But I guess there just wasn't room for Gordon on the ballot, what with McGrady possibly playing again at some point in his career and the need to have three Phoenix Suns guards on there. Here's a quick look at Gordon's season so far versus those of Leandro Barbosa, Aaron Brooks and Sessions - all of whom are on the ballot. I'd show you McGrady's numbers, but he doesn't have any.
As I mentioned at the start of this rant, there's no way that Kaman or Gordon would win the popularity contest that is the All Star Game fan voting even if they were on the ballot, although in Kaman's case if he keeps up his current pace he might actually deserve to. But he won't. So it doesn't much matter. Nonetheless it's insulting to the organization that these two aren't on the ballot at all.
What can be done about it? The team just has to go play well and earn some respect.