The Scene: An uncharacteristically surly Chris Paul makes his way from the player parking lot into the team's sprawling practice facility in Playa Vista. It's Friday, November 7th, and two days earlier, Paul and his teammates suffered a humiliating defeat on national television at the hands of their increasingly terrifying Pacific Division rival, the
1986 Celtics Golden State Warriors. While the team sits at 3-2 on the young season, media handwringing over how the team is playing has reached borderline apocalyptic/Cavalier proportions. On his drive into Playa Vista, Paul hears on the radio from Fred Rogan that "The season is lost. No team in the history of human sport has played sub-par basketball for six percent of the regular season and made it to the Western Conference finals. Trade everyone except for Spencer Hawes." 1972 Lakers 1996 Bulls
The early-season hyperventilating wouldn't ordinarily bother Paul--he's been around long enough to know the Clippers will play better and the Warriors will not go 82-0 (though if Bogut stays healthy, I'll take the over on 80). But neither Paul nor those of us who watch the games can shake the notion that something more troubling is afoot. Too many things do seem off. The preseason is meaningless, but boy did we look awful. We didn't look much better as Perry Jones and six guys Scott Brooks found outside a Home Depot nearly stole one at Staples.
When the grey mamba made things surprisingly competitive for three and a half quarters before succumbing to osteoporosis in the fourth, Chris was officially worried. And then Boogie happened. And then this...
Typically, Paul would spend an off day after a loss pouring over game film, hitting the weight room, and finding ways to politely decline President Obama's weekly "BOYS NIGHT AT THE WHITE HOUSE--MICHELLE SAYS WE CAN PLAY POKER THIS TIME!!!! (DON'T TELL MICHAEL)"--E-Vite. But early this morning, he got a cryptic text from Doc asking him to "come to the practice facility, keep an open mind, and bring your dream journal if you have one."
Chris climbs the stairs inside the practice facility to Doc's office. Inside, he finds Doc and Clipper owner Steve Ballmer chatting with each other, notepads in hand and bifocals draped loosely around their necks. He takes a seat across from them on a chaise lounge, which he hadn't noticed in Doc's office before today.
Ballmer: Chris! So glad you could make it. And on time! Hardcore punctual, Chris! Hardcore!
Chris, laughing nerously: Hey, Steve. Hey, Doc. How's it going?
Doc: Things have been better, Chris.
Chris: Yeah, I know. Wednesday was pretty brutal. We have to do better. But hey, it's early.
Doc: Brutal is an understatement. Yesterday Steve Kerr texted me a picture of his ass with the words "national media kiss here" tattooed on his left cheek.
Chris: Steve Kerr has an ass tattoo?
Doc: Steve Kerr has MY ass tattoo!!! That's my design!!! I showed it to him in the preseason. I was going to have it inked after the Oklahoma City series last year, but then...
Doc trails off, stares vacantly into space for a little while, and then suddenly snaps back to attention.
Doc: It's fine. I heard it's temporary anyway, and they made Jermaine O'Neal put it on when they were thinking of giving him a 10-day.
Ballmer: Tattoos are hardcore!!! I remember, back in '99, I got what I thought was a pretty awesome tat to support the launch of Windows ME. But the PR people forced me to get it lasered off before I could show it in public.
Ballmer: Anyway, we're here today because I wanted to try something with you that worked very well for me and my little company in Seattle. It's called "workplace therapy"--it's basically group therapy with your co-workers. We tried it while we were having some early problems on the dev team for Windows 8. And we all know how that turned out...
Ballmer looks knowingly at Doc and Chris, waiting for affirmation. Doc and Chris exchange confused glances. And then...
Doc and Chris: Hardcore?
Ballmer: Hardcore!!! I've trained Doc here to be a counselor, and we'll have your teammates coming in at different points during the season. But we wanted to start with you, because you're the leader of this team. And because Blake has UCB classes on Friday morning. Are you in?
Chris: Sure, I guess so. I still think it's early to be panicking, but I'll try anything that helps.
Ballmer: Great! Doc, you can go ahead and take it from here. I've got a 10:30 with the Oculus Rift people about our pre-game intros. Hardcore!!!
Ballmer exits the room. Doc puts on his bifocals and takes a look at his notepad.
Doc: So, Chris, let's start with how you feel about the season so far. Don't just tell me what you think--tell me what you feel.
Chris: So we're seriously doing this?
Doc: Look, that guy paid more money for something than Oprah. Oprah, Chris. And I actually found this therapy stuff pretty helpful in Boston when Rajon started breaking out.
Chris: Alright then, I'll give it a try.
Doc: Good. I'll go first. I feel like this team should not be confused playing pick and roll defense in its second year under my system. I feel like every other offensive possession ends with Jamal taking a step-back three with 2 seconds left on the shot clock--and those are the possessions we actually score on.
Chris: Right. I think I get how this works. So I feel...
Doc keeps steamrolling ahead, interrupting Chris.
Doc: I feel like every other team in the West looks better than last year, except for us. I feel like if our schedule wasn't so soft early on, we very well might be winless.
Chris: Right, Doc, I getcha. And I feel...
Doc: I feel stressed, Chris. And when I feel stressed, I start impulse buying Eastern Conference psuedo-stars from the mid-2000's on e-Bay. Last week I spent four hours on the phone trying to return Rip Hamilton to the assisted living facility he lives in. Shit, yesterday I almost bought Gilbert Arenas on a Groupon.
Chris: You think Gilbert could play the 3?
Doc and Chris pause, both seriously contemplating the possibility. A beat passes.
Chris: Jesus, maybe we are in trouble.
Suddenly there's a knock on the door to Doc's office. Matt Barnes, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Reggie Bullock walk in. Barnes and CDR take a seat on two office chairs adjacent to Chris.
There's a third open chair--the obvious place for Reggie to sit--but Reggie freezes in the middle of the room with a deer in the headlights expression. He timidly looks at Doc, who points to the open remaining chair. Reggie takes two hesitating steps towards the chair, and freezes again. Visibly shaking, Reggie looks at Doc in utter confusion. An exasperated Doc again points to the open office chair.
Chris: Reggie, what the hell is wrong?
Barnes: This has been happening for some time now. Unless he's waiting for a corner three, Reggie has no idea where to move his body unless Doc expressly points to the precise location. It used to just happen on the defensive end. But now it's pretty much for everything.
Doc: Bathroom breaks are awkward.
Reggie moves another six inches before freezing again. Doc emphatically gestures to the chair. Reggie pauses, surveys the room, and sits down on Doc's lap.
Doc: This is good enough. Matt and CDR, do you have anything you'd like to say to Chris?
Barnes: Yes. Look man, I love you like a brother. I consider myself the Chris to your Marlo, the Avon to your Stringer.
CDR: I'm Dukie!
Barnes: Which is why your behavior this season has been so...hurtful.
Chris: What do you mean?
Barnes: I'll give you an example. Let's say the shot-clock is at about 8 or so, and Blake has the ball down low. He gets a double team and kicks the ball out to you at the top of the arc. You have a very good look at an open 3, but instead of shooting, you pass the ball to me, because I have an incredibly open look at a 3.This happens about 450 times a game or so. Do you agree?
Chris: Yeah, that sounds about right.
Barnes, visibly upset, looking at Doc: See? No remorse. He doesn't even care. See what I'm working with?
Doc: Remember Matt, this is a judgement free zone. I'm sure Chris has an explanation for why he passes you the ball when you're open. Remember the three L's: listen, lob, and listen. Chris?
Chris: I must be missing something. Like Doc said, I pass you the ball because you're wide open.
Barnes: I am always wide open! The opposition knows I'm wide open! The world knows I'm wide open! There's a reason I'm wide open!
CDR: Weird. I'm always open too, now that I think about it.
Doc: Chris, I think what Matt is trying to say is that he's not a very good shooter. In fact, he's always been pretty terrible, even before this preseason. So just stop passing him the ball when he's open, because it feels like you're trying to publicly embarrass him.
Barnes: Finally! God, it feels so good to say it out loud.
Chris: Hmmmm. I suppose I need to assert myself more on offense anyway.
CDR: If we're being honest with each other, you should probably stop passing the ball to me too. I just got a letter from the FCC saying they were going to have to blur my jumpshot because, in their words, "it is the basketball equivalent of saying the c-word."
Doc: I throw up in my mouth when you shoot.
Chris and Barnes: So do we.
CDR, head bowed toward his feet: So do I.
Doc: Okay, I can see the hour is almost up. That's good work for today, guys, lots of progress. Chris, I think it's best if we schedule you for another session. This time with Blake...
On the next Clippers Workplace Therapy (if you guys like this one): JJ confesses that sometimes he feels the team only likes him because of his looks; Big Baby confronts his issues with food and hotel reception desks; and Blake outperforms Chris in puppet role-playing, except when the puppets role-play defensive rebounding.
And as always, a big thanks to Connor Carroll--increasingly the Anthony Davis to my Monty Williams. I mean, look at Doc as Freud, and try to shake that image out of your head for the next 24 hours. And you can follow me on the Tweets @MHellerReports