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Bill Simmons and the Clippers

I shouldn't be doing this.  I have a paper due for grad school, and this is a pointless exercise - I mean, more pointless than what I usually do here.  It's all pointless of course.

And by the way, I'm probably not going to give it my best effort.  I'm trying to steal some time here to get this post in, but it's not one of those posts.  I mean, it's not the Maggettefesto either, but there's a treasure trove of Simmons material out there.  But the 10,000 word post will have to wait for another day. 

Bill Simmons is doing his off-season recap, giving it the full-on two parter treatment.  The 'Almost Famous' angle is interesting - I liked the movie fine, but never felt compelled to watch it 20 times, although I will concur with him that Frances McDormand was great and deserved an Oscar for it.  The idea that it's the defining movie of the decade is obviously just a matter of opinion, but it would seem to have one glaring problem: it's set in the 70s.  Shouldn't a movie under consideration for 'Defining movie of the Decade' be set in, you know, that decade?  Wall Street is a great candidate for 'Defining move of the 80s'.  But 'Almost Famous' has nothing to do with the 00's.  'Best movie of the decade'?  I suppose you could try to mount a case.  Defining?  It's a non-starter.

Part 1 was a couple days ago.  Part 2 is up today.  In Part 2, the Clippers get three spots near the top of the post - befitting their position in the top of the SG's consciousness.

Citizen Mikey P put a FanShot for it on the front page, and plenty of lively discussion has been going on in the comments.  I'm going to go ahead and bring a Zhivian comment from that thread up to the light of day here as part of this post:  partly because it's very good, and deserves better than to be buried in a comment thread and partly because it's a cheap way to get the word count up on what I already sense will be an anemic effort. 

Kind of like Bill Simmons. Simmons is about Simmons—he’s not especially concerned with the realistic opportunities and chances of success of the Clippers (as opposed to the Celtics), and he has a pretty good understanding of LA, entertainment, entertainment as sports, media, etc. He’s a smart guy—if you read the thing about his dad, you can see how Simmons is pretty aggressive about taking in information and developing opinions—his dad has something like three different degrees, and just retired from running a school district.

Simmons can be very funny, interesting, and knowledgable, but everything he says has to be taken with a grain of salt. He’s pretty reliable about the Celtics, and his loyalty to them seems solid enough, although we’d like to see his adopted home team test that this year and in the future. I’ve mentioned before how his attitude towards Doc Rivers was similar in way to what he’s putting MDSr through now, but now with KG, etc., guess what: he’s pretty good with Doc Rivers. But he knows the importance of a strong opinion, for good or ill—kind of like some other folks on this blog. It gets attention. Don’t go with the flow, cry for change, change the flow. Don’t be patient, do something right now. It’s so easy when you’re a critic and a commentator.

Dunleavy pegged Simmons pretty nicely when he called him a joke writer recently. His status as a journalist is worthy of an SP "thought paper." It’s actually kind of amazing that our Humble Nation has a folksy, salt of the earth, one of us blogger like the Artist Formerly Known as Clipper Steve, the inimitable, rising KA, and Simmons is a season ticket holder. For a ridiculously lousy team, this is a phenomenal group. Maybe the Clips are about to do something big. Remember it’s not just those guys—we also have Club Optimism!

I think that Simmons needs to study Dunleavy just as carefully as he studied Elgin Baylor. As his English Professor, that’s what I would assign, rather than writing a paper on the accomplishments of Henry Louis Gates Jr., just because he’s a Masshole. Look at Dunleavy as a player, where he came from, what his game was like, what made him successful. I bet that he would find that Dunleavy is a lot like Simmons, only tougher, more committed to basketball, a better athlete, more focused and disciplined. In his excellent study of the Original (and only, now) EB, I believe that Simmons beat Dunleavy in Horse or some other shooting game, and Dunleavy never paid him. I’d like to hear Dunleavy’s version of this story—and with SP and KA on the case now, there’s an important question, finally! Simmons just needs to admit the fact that Dunleavy was a much better basketball player than he ever dreamed of being, that he had the solid NBA career that Simmons spent his entire adolescence dreaming he might have, that he has held a number of jobs that Simmons has spent a fair amount of time in his adulthood dreaming about having. Who is the only GM and coach in the NBA? This isn’t a good thing, necessarily, but it represents a lot of power in the league that Simmons obsesses on. We shouldn’t worry about Simmons. He gets paid to zhiv, to dream, to make it up as he goes along, he’s not accountable for anything, his only responsibility is to entertain us and to take care of his family. His primary concern is for himself.

His wild-arsed theories about what to do about the Clippers don’t have anything to do with reality. He needs to quiet down and focus on the shifting tides. We (our Jax contingent) want management to apologize for certain mistakes, but has Simmons said stated clearly that he was wrong about the Randolph trade, when he was certain that MDSr’s most grievous sin was trading for a horrible reprobate who is completely untradeable—and he had KA backing him up? No, he just blames Chris Wallace, another one of his incompetent GMs. But the truth is that Randolph spent an unfortunate but well-meaning year on the Clips, where he was far from being the primary problem, and his arrival allowed the franchise to stay credible and progress, and he is now a nice two-year player on the Grizzlies, giving them something that they badly needed. Chris Wallace isn’t a sucker for taking ZBo. Zbo is an asset with an outsized contract who was traded twice. So Simmons can start, before he writes the in-depth Dunleavy study, and goes to eat doughnuts with him in a receptive frame of mind like he did with Baron Davis, by apologizing for some of the things he said about the Randolph trade.

And the same thing is true with Donald Sterling. I’m not sure that Simmons was an STH when the articles ran about DTS’ real estate empire and his business philosophy. It’s very simple: never sell. Instead of coming up with hare-brained ideas of how to pry the Clippers away from DTS—about as easy to resolve as getting the Ayatollahs out of Iran—, again, Simmons should study DTS in depth, get beyond the deeply problematic racist and morality issues, which are tawdry and tired, and study his business acumen and rise: just how is it that a mediocre LA doctor becomes a multi-billionaire? It’s pretty simple, Simmons: mortgage the new book, the ESPN site, the two kids, and buy real estate, apartment buildings, downtown, over there in your hipster Silver Lake Eastside location NOW. Not tomorrow, TODAY. Clean it up, rent it out, make it decent and liveable and nice (increase its value with repairs and good management), and just hold onto it. Then buy some more.

It’s nice that Simmons gets paid for his MDSr diatribes and his fantasies about the team going nuts and blowing up under new ownership. But I like the real world better, you know, since that’s where things happen and that’s where we live. I like Jax and think he knows the game, but he’s a broken record waiting for things to change that just aren’t going to. Simmons isn’t so different. In the real world, we can hope that MDSr, who is not exactly the root of all evil, he’s more of a mixed bag, is successful and finds a way to kick himself upstairs under a new deal. The reptilian DTS can’t live forever, and does anyone have any idea about the succession plan for his empire? There’s a good journalistic question. We know all about Jeannie Buss and the kid who embarassed himself accepting the trophy, and of course Jerry Buss should pay 80 million, 40 to Lamar and 40 to the league, just because it’s the Lakers—but that’s money that Buss, the gambler, isn’t leaving behind for anybody, and his estate will be miniscule in comparison to Sterling’s.

Where are the Clippers headed in the longterm? One question is where the NBA is headed, but probably more important is the question of who will inherit Donald Sterling’s billions. If Simmons makes nice and plays his cards right and becomes a devotee, DTS just might leave him the team. Now that’s a plan.

On to my take on what Simmons had to say.

His first bullet on the Clippers is all positive:  they had a great off-season, and the future looks bright.  "They have a killer under-22 foundation..., a fun team for this season... and a super-intriguing cap situation next summer."  I agree (except that they owe more than $35M, but more on that later).  Interestingly, he also asks of Mark Madsen "have they ever had a towel-waving chemistry guy?" when Celtic fan Simmons should clearly remember that Cornbread Maxwell, the guy who invented towel-waving, was a Clipper.  Minus 1.

His second bullet is solid - he breaks out a great stat about MDsr.  "In the history of the NBA, only six people have coached more than 300 games consecutively for the same franchise and won less than 40 percent of those games. Incredibly, Dunleavy is the only person who accomplished this 'feat' for two franchises."  Wow.  That's a stat!  Back in April, Citizen eastie Rich and I came up with some pretty solid stats in a similar vein - coaches who held onto their job in spite of dismal records.  But coming up with a set of numbers that isolates Dunleavy as the only guy who shows up twice?  That's good work.

It's also at least a little disingenuous.  Seeing Fitch on the list for his Clippers tenure caught my attention, since he was also on my list of the worst two season stints with the same team, and eR's list of the worst 6 season stints - both achieved while he was in Cleveland.  So why isn't Fitch on Simmons' list twice, once with the Cavs and once with the Clippers?  Well, BECAUSE he kept his job in Cleveland, he was able to win some games there over the course of 9 seasons, and barely squeaked out a .412 career winning percentage with the Cavs.  But he clearly had a 300 game stretch below 40%.  In fact, his record for his first four seasons in Cleveland (that's 328 games) was 99-229 - barely above 30%.  So as of now, Simmons is applying a different set of rules to MDsr than he's applying to Fitch - he uses Fitch's career winning percentage with Cleveland to keep him off the list, but MDsr's career winning percentage with the Clippers is unknown, since he's still the coach.  With a current mark of .394 and Blake Griffin, he's got a pretty good chance to get himself off the list the way Fitch did - so it may not be the 'Wilt's 100 point game' record Simmons thinks it is.  (FYI, by my math MDsr would have to go 36-46 in a full season this year to get his career winning percentage with the Clippers above 40.)

It's still a fascinating stat, and almost all stats are fudged one way or another to make the author's point, so I don't begrudge him his Fitch shenanigans too much.  But here's my real point - this says much more about the TEAM employing him than it does about the coach.  Why don't more coaches have bad records over the course of 300 plus games with the same team?  It's not because there aren't enough bad coaches out there.  It's because they're not employed by the same team that long. When I post about how Dunleavy should be replaced, it's more a criticism of the team than of Dunleavy.

By the way, Fitch won NBA coach of the year twice, won an NBA title in Boston, and was named one of the 10 greatest coaches in NBA history in 1997 (while coaching the Clippers).  FWIW.

Zhiv's point about Doc Rivers is well taken as well.  Simmons first and really only love in the NBA is Boston.  When the Clippers made a nice playoff run in 2006, he allowed himself to get a little interested (of course, the Celtics won 33 games that year and 24 the next, so he was in the market for a winner); but even at the height of Clippermania (if you can call it that) Simmons likened the Clippers to his mistress, while he remained married to Boston.  At the end of their 24 win season in April 2007 Simmons said things about Rivers' contract extension that sound suspiciously similar to things he says about Dunleavy now.  Fourteen months later the Celtics were hanging their 18th banner, and Simmons had decided that maybe Rivers wasn't so bad after all.  Funny how that works.

All the Dunleavy bashing took on a more menacing tone for me when I listened to this Simmons appearance on the Colin Cowherd show.  After Dunleavy called Simmons a 'joke writer' and a 'joke', Simmons came on the show and... well, let's just say it's hard to dismiss any of this as good-natured kidding at this point.  These guys do NOT like each other. 

Backtracking on that meme a bit, the radio spat in question grew out of the Sports Guy's oh so hilarious "Open Letter to Blake Griffin" prior to the draft, in which he advises Blake Superior to 'run for your life.'  As long as I'm pointing out problems with Simmons' pop culture references ('Almost Famous' and towel-waving) and statistical analysis (Fitch and $35M), let's set the record straight on something from that post as well. 

How many times have we seen a horror movie or a Western in which someone desecrated sacred Indian territory in some way? Does it ever turn out well for them? Ever? Hell, even the Amityville Horror house was built over a sacred burial ground.

FAIL!  The Amityville Horror house was the site of a killing spree in which a man murdered six members of his family.  It was the house in Poltergeist that was built over a cemetary.  More importantly, where have I heard this idea before?  This idea that a Clippers curse might somehow be related to the desecration of a native American burial ground, complete a movie tie-in?  Oh, I know.  From this post from October 2006 (the 30th post in the history of Clips Nation, so there's a pretty good chance that most of you have never seen it).  So Simmons messed up his movie reference AND stole my idea!  Besides, the idea that the Clippers are cursed for NOT calling themselves the Braves seems counter-intuitive.  Aren't teams actually being told to stop using native American mascots and logos because they re-enforce racial stereotypes?  At least the Clippers were never tempted to create their version of Atlanta's Chief Noc-A-Homa

Moving on.

Simmons third idea about the Clippers is the most interesting, though also the least accurate.  He suggests that some billionaire or other should wildly overpay Donald Sterling for the team and then change the name, the coach, the general manager, the uniforms... presumably everything except Ralph.  And he thinks that owner would have a great chance of getting LeBron James to sign in LA next summer.

It's a valid point.  It would be astoundingly simple for a new owner to completely change the aura around the Clippers simply by virture of NOT being Donald Sterling - the net value of the franchise would rise immediately on that alone.  Perhaps it's not quite that simple, but if a new owner and new management made some good moves and won some games, they would immediately be dubbed the 'anti-Clippers', there would be an avalanche of publicity about how things were different, and the other LA team would suddenly become a great NBA destiination.  Don't believe me?  Well, just a few short years ago, about the only team in the NBA consider more dysfunctional than the Clippes was Portland, where Paul Allen had done major damage to the economics of the league by wildly overpaying for anyone and everyone, and in the process built one of the most expensive, most felonious, and least successful teams in history.  With a new GM and a new coach (and some great draft picks of course), they're now the darlings of the league - and that's with the same owner.  So yeah, a new regime, if the team were to win games, would be an instant smash.

This new owner scenario has Simmons dreaming of being a season ticket holder in 2010 and watching a team of "LeBron, Gordon, Baron, Griffin, Kaman and Secondary Marquee Free Agent X."  But Simmons plays fast and loose with the numbers here.  His $35M cap estimate is unrealistic; it assumes that Telfair declines his player option and that the Clippers don't exercise their option on Al Thornton, both of which are highly doubtful.  Of course, even if those things happened, you still can't get to $35M - there are cap holds to consider, and he's at almost $33M just for the four players he wants to put next to LeBron.  The reality, as we've discussed before, is that with the salary cap expected to decrease, the Clippers won't even be able to offer a maximum deal to LeBron, let alone pay him AND another free agent.  It would be more realistic to suggest that the Clippers would trade Camby, Ricky Davis, Mark Madsen and Mardy Collins for LeBron at the deadline.  At least the math works on that deal.

Oh man, am I behind on my paper now.