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The Jordan Farmar Conundrum

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For Clipper-Bruin fans like the Zhivmeister, the replacement of beloved and enriched Darren Collison by purple-and-gold contaminated local par excellence — his dad went to Uni! — Jordan Farmar is confusing.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I gotta say, this is a tough one.  Somehow it feels like there are layers upon layers to the backstory and significance of Jordan Farmar replacing Darren Collison as the Clippers backup point guard, and I'm having a lot of trouble finding the essence of the narrative and figuring out my own feelings about it.  But maybe it's possible that the Farmar situation is the best example we have of These New Times and How Things Have Changed in the Los Angeles NBA power structure.  That could be the hook.

I hit upon the topic of Farmar when I looked at last year's September musings and remembered how geeked I was when Darren Collison joined the Clippers.  And the DC experience really couldn't have gone much better.  He wasn't transcendent, but he was often great, and with the Clippers relatively substantial injury roll — and DC was actually the first slightly tweaked Clipper last season, IIRC — he filled in and played in a wide variety of slots, and helped the Clippers stay tough and battle through a marquee injury to star Chris Paul, and an extremely significant (though not season-ending) injury to starter JJ Redick.  And we should also remember that Collison had big shoes to fill after the departure of Eric Bledsoe, and the stunning excellence and effectiveness of the Clippers Bench Mob in '12-'13.  It wasn't a perfect season, but it was the best in Clipper history, and DC did his part and was a big factor in Clippers success.  And then he got paid, which is nice.  It's somewhat bittersweet that it was the Kings who could pay him and not the Clippers, but it's still a great result for him and his family.  Anytime an NBA player signs a below-value contract and plays his way to a salary that would boggle the minds of any of us humble citizens, it should be celebrated.

Darren Collison is a UCLA success story, and for a Bruin fan like myself that's good to see.  Matt Barnes and Ryan Hollins are Bruin success stories as well.  Barnes' road has been rather long and winding and it's fairly complex, but he got his start with the Clippers and he got paid by the Clippers--and he has also played for all four California teams (and Phoenix).  Barnes is a stalwart in the "love him when he's on your team, hate him when he's your opponent" category, and that might be helpful when considering Jordan Farmar.  The fact that Ryan Hollins has been in the league for eight years is a success story in itself, of course, but last week's "A World Where Everyone Wants Ryan Hollins" article and his subsequent signing, also in Cali, also with the Kingz! (Say Boogie Now!!) is even better.  Hollins actually might be a guy that you would just as soon see on the other team, rather than your own, which is not to say that he's not a good, hard-working dude.

Jordan Farmar, as an LAUSD (Taft) player, is even more local (for some of us) than Collison (Etiwanda, Rancho Cucamonga), Hollins (John Muir, Pasadena), or Barnes (Del Campo, Sacramento).  And Jordan's dad Damon even went to Uni, the birthplace of zhiving.  Farmar's UCLA career was fairly epic in the two seasons he played alongside Aaron Affalo (a more successful pro), Luc Ruchard Mbah a Moute, and Hollins, with Collison as his promising backup in his second season.  By jumping to the pros perhaps a tad prematurely (Affalo stayed an additional year), Farmar opened up minutes in the Bruin backcourt for startling freshman Russell Westbrook (best Bruin NBA success story since... Kareem?  Already better than Marques Johnson and Baron Davis.  Not as good as Gail Goodrich, who predates Kareem however.  Wussell was working out at my gym in Westwood this summer, and I saw him pick up and carry his little dog across Santa Monica at Westwood Blvd not long ago.)  Farmar was the most celibrated recruit and shiniest college player on this list of Howland-era Bruin guards (add Jrue Holiday, please), and now he finds himself at the bottom of that list in terms of NBA success.

Farmar does have a pair of NBA championship rings, of course, and that should count for something I suppose.  His draft timing out of UCLA allowed him to become the first round pick of the hated Lakers, where he had the rookie privilege of backing up Smush Parker.  The following year the Lakers were gifted not only Pau Gasol but also Derek Fisher, leaving Farmar in the backup role on an infinitely better team, and he made his first trip to the NBA finals.  He went on to win two championships with the Lakers, and then got paid by the New Jersey Nets — more of a Matt Barnes-level payday than a Collison deal, but still.  Some one else can do the deeper dive into Farmar's Laker history and subsquent meanderings, and since he is once again a very LA story I'm quite certain that some one else will, multiple times.  As a Clipper-Bruin fan I wasn't especially affected or impressed by his Laker tenure, and in New Jersey he was shown be something less than a prime time player.

It's interesting that Farmar made a deal last season with the Lakers that can be easily compared to Collison's highly successful signing with the Clippers.  Farmar had a great opportunity to orchestrate the Laker's shocking success after Kobe's patient return from his devastating achilles injury — wait, that didn't happen?  The Lakers struggled mightily all year long, crippled by a patchwork roster, with injuries on top of injuries, and a problematic coach?  You're sure that wasn't the Clippers?  But the Lakers had Chris Kaman playing alongside Pau Gasol!  Kobe and Steve Nash!  What could go wrong?  Pretty much everything, as it turned out.  Farmar was a tidy cog in the Lakers muddling futility until he got hurt in game 18.  He went on to play another 24 games, but it was all pretty much a bad dream, the dark underbelly version of Collison's good work on the successful Clippers roster.

Elements of Doc Rivers' coaching efforts fascinate me, but part of that is how he does things differently from Clipper Coaches Past, Vinny Del Negro and MDSr, and maybe that's not the best measure for Rivers' accomplishments--it probably makes him look too good.  (But the last thing I want to say is that Doc Rivers looks too good right now--that's a different topic, one that I might be probably should am working on.)  I think I just mentioned that MDSr and VDN were stubborn, inflexible coaches, and VDN compounded this fault by being dim as well.  I love a coach who tries things, and who doesn't press ahead with an initiative that is going horribly wrong, or even one that's simply mediocre.  VDN's handling of Eric Bledsoe, and his failure to start him next to Chris Paul even as a limited experiment was criminal, made more painful when we had to watch the success of Bledsoe and Goran Dragic last season.  And VDN stuck with Willie Green in his starting lineup, nice enough but a recipe for mediocrity, even when Chris Paul was injured, and he never tried starting Jamal Crawford ahead of Green. Vinny was in over his head, but he should have known that a magician like Crawford was sitting there waiting to bail him out.  Doc Rivers gave Willie Green his shot, but he quickly plugged in Crawford (something of an all-world basketball player in the Clipper tradition of World B Free) and got outstanding results, and Rivers wasn't afraid to put Darren Collison on the floor with Chris Paul either.  Dunleavy was of course stubborn in all sorts of ways, most famously bringing Corey Maggette off the bench behind Quentin Ross (Maggettifesto!) as the Clippers slowly went down the toilet after the previous best season in their history--could that happen again?  Could we be prepping to relive '06-'07 and the Lost Season, the one before FElton's achilles and Kaman 2.0?!  I think not — have we mentioned Ding Dong the Donald Witch is Dead yet? One of my favorite moments from last season was seeing Rivers on TV, at some point when Chris Paul was getting ready to come back, saying that Collison was an attacker and scorer and didn't mesh particularly well playing alongside Jamal Crawford, something that was both obvious and somewhat subtle to us citizens, but that you would never expect a coach to acknowledge about his backup guards, especially when his starters were injured.

I shouldn't overstate Collison's contributions last season, and he was a peculiar player in certain respects, as I just mentioned.  His shortcomings as a distributor might have been offset by his motor, which was sweetly reminiscent of Bledsoe, along with his penetration and mid-range shooting accuracy, but they were real.  Some of Collison's ability is in fact a mirage, and he seems like he's a better and more effective player than he really is, seems like he's a legitimate starter when your starter is injured, all of which is very nice to contemplate when Chris Paul is on your team.

It doesn't seem like the same problems will exist with Jordan Farmar.  He's a back-up, and the idea that he might make the leap up to being a starter was soundly denied during his stun in New Jersey (or at least that's my impression — the facts might include more details and subtleties, but I think that's the gist of it). What's interesting is that Farmar is more of a pure point guard than Collison.  He's a natural distributor, which should make the pairing with Jamal Crawford more effective perhaps, and help with the cause of getting the ball into the hands of the Clippers burgeoning corps of shooters.  And Farmar might be a smidge better at the inside-outside catch-and-shoot game than Collison, which could provide benefits if he's on the floor with passers like Joe Ingles or Blake Griffin.  Farmar isn't going to strike fear into anybody's heart as a defender, but his peskiness is only a grade or two below Collison (who was a grade or two below Bledsoe), and he's slated to play limited minutes against opposing backups.  Adequate and smart defense, anchored by continuing improvement on that end by DJ and Griffin under Doc's system and tutelage, will be the Clippers' complement to what might be the most fearsome offense in the league.  Farmar's game seems to embody the Clippers' basic 60-40 offense-defense equation, which is a great regular season recipe for success.

So now it's really just a matter of getting past being annoyed and irritated by Farmar.  He played a significant role in the Lakers' stunning upset in last season's opener (sans Kobe, no less), and having watched him do that relatively recently in Laker colors doesn't help the cause of embracing him as a Clippers.  But he has been humbled, I suppose, and last season's debacle was dispiriting and degrading enough that the last ounce of Laker hubris should have been leeched out of him.  The evidence for this, I suppose, is that he signed with the Clippers, which was obviously, to us citizens at least, a great professional move.

And it occurs to me that Farmar's defection might be significant.  He could have easily aimed at being a Lakr4Lif after returning to the team as a prodigal last season.  Instead his decision to try to contribute to an elite contender, rather than wallow in mediocrity, deferred rebuilding, and the last bitter dregs of The Kobe Show, should mark a path for many Los Angeles basketball fans.  Laker glory is dead for now, and it's not going to return any time soon.  Old school thoughtful fans of the prideful franchise should stay loyal, with plenty of good lessons in humility and the uses of adversity ahead. But the more causal and star-gazing fan, who just wants to see what might be the best and most entertaining basketball on the planet, is going to be watching the Clippers now and for the foreseeable future.  The Kobe Era ended last year and he officially, albeit reluctantly stepped aside for the Griffin Era when BG made his latest leap during Chris Paul's absence, if not before.  And maybe that's what a deepish dive into the Jordan Farmar conundrum reveals — a poignant sign of Clipper dominance.