The takes have been varied in recent days, with a fair mix of both optimism and pessimism among our regular Clipper scribes. So far, the Clippers have gone 27-14 this season, only one game behind last year's pace, but that news is greeted with a much more subdued reaction this January. But the arguments for decreased expectations this year focus on the idea that more has gone right for the team this year, yet they have less to show for it.
To some extent, numbers back up that assertion — after shooting a miserable percentage last year (33.7% through January 17, good for 26th leaguewide), the Clippers have been bombing away from behind the arc this year, currently shooting 38.1% (4th, on the second highest 3PA rate). Three of four of the team's most prolific long-range shooters are shooting above 39% — J.J. Redick, Chris Paul, and Matt Barnes. As it happens, those three guys all missed significant chunks of time last year, whereas this year's team hasn't suffered any major injuries.
I could go on about defense and efficiency ratings and standings and the bench and chemistry and how this year's team "is just different" and "doesn't have it". But those arguments are tired and oft-repeated, especially on this blog (even in times we should be celebrating). And frankly I think they're blown out of proportion and don't respect the struggles unique to this season's team. Most of us have made our minds up on which side of the meniscus we stand (and no, I'm not talking CP3), and barring an extreme bout of winning or losing heads are unlikely to swing or roll.
Andrew Han, usually on the right side of the glass, spoke for the naysayers recently.
How does a team riding high off the ousting of one of the most repugnant owners in professional sports reach a point where they felt turned away by a home crowd? Even for a moment? Attendance is high and sales are brisk. But the season has left a palpable uncertainty in the air. And uncertainty breeds anxiety. And anxiety breeds resentment.
Fans have openly expressed distaste with how this season’s campaign has progressed, one going as far as to say that this team has been the hardest to root for in some time. At worst the Clippers are now a fringe contender. Were the bad old days really preferable?
There is no precise roadmap to improve the deficiencies that stymie the team. No perceivable methodology or insight to help understand how Doc is preparing the roster to improve and grow. That is, unless the thesis is that the starters will carry the burden or Rivers simply plans to attract the staunchest Celtic opponents from 2009. And there lies the root of fanatical angst: that a path to glory is claimed but for an obscured reach.
Something is missing from the Clippers this season. And while the team sifts for the intangible, fans are starting to feel the creep of a familiar cycle.
Humans by nature are buoyant (even moreso in salt water), so here's a message to those of you floundering underneath oceans of despair: Let go that baggage and float up with the rest of us, on the right side of the half-full glass. The Clippers are just as close to 1st place as they are to 9th, so isn't it a far better world where the Warriors get knocked down a peg and the Clip Ship once again rides above the waves?
Farmar, Rivers, and the Bench
After his release last week, Jordan Farmar spoke with Broderick Turner and sounded as if he felt somewhat disappointed about his brief and underwhelming stint with the Clippers (after a much longer and more glorious tenure with the other LA team).
"I just never felt I had a real role," Farmar said. "We talked in the offseason about what my job was going to be. The opportunity just wasn’t the same. It was never time for me to really ever get going and feel comfortable and feel like I had a place on the team."
Farmar was asked if it was true that Rivers was hardest on the guard than anyone else on the team.
"You’re correct saying that," Farmar said. "I would assume that. I’ve been doing this for a long time. For whatever reason, and I can’t really put my finger on it, but it just wasn’t a great fit. On paper, initially it looked really good. It was different in reality – I would probably say from both of our perspectives. So that’s why at the end of the day, we both agreed mutually to go our separate ways."
And while it might be fanciful to think all the Clippers' problems could disappear with the flick of a pen, we might already be seeing a very real change on the bench. (Trigger warning: CHEMISTRY CHEMISTRY CHEMISTRY)
In the Clippers’ past three games – three games where Jordan Farmar, Reggie Bullock and Chris Douglas-Roberts didn’t play – team chemistry seems to have improved. Add in the fact that the Clippers look genuinely happier on the bench in the two games since Bullock and Douglas-Roberts were traded and Farmar was released, and you don’t have to strain your eyes to see what’s happening. A guy like Dahntay Jones never sits down, and is up yelling and cheering after nearly every bucket. A guy like Austin Rivers stands whenever an open 3 gets launched, ready to celebrate if it goes down.
"The bench was great tonight," Griffin said. "Guys were coming up off the bench after every play, talking, encouraging, saying things that they see. It’s awesome." Could it be as simple as adding someone like Dahntay Jones, who swears his high-energy cheering on the bench isn’t an act? Could it be as simple as Austin Rivers draped all over the Sacramento guards, blocking shots and forcing airballs? Maybe it’s Ekpe Udoh – a guy who has been cheering all year – rubbing off on his teammates, celebrating Jamal Crawford buckets, Glen Davis rebounds, etc. No one knows for sure.
Saturday in Sacramento, the Clippers might’ve found something, an energy of positivity that hasn’t existed all that much this year. When the team went on a run, the guys not in the game stood up and did their best to fan that flame. Doc Rivers even had to hold his starters back from jumping up too far off the bench. He loved it. "It’s nice to see. It’s good. It helps," he said. "I don’t know if it helps you win a game, to be honest, but I think it helps you overall, in the long run."
And adding new pieces, subtracting others, sometimes, makes a difference with things like chemistry. Sometimes it doesn’t."Chemistry," he said, "is a delicate thing."
New addition Austin Rivers might not have shown up much in the stat sheet so far, but he's helped change the energy of the bench and contribute in other lss meaningful ways. Trisity Miller breaks down some of these moments on film over at Fully Clips. A lot of Clippers fans have had mixed reactions so far, chief among them a fellow member of the Rivers clan.
When Austin Rivers heard he was coming to the Clippers, the first thing he did was call his mother, Kristen. "She was a wreck the first night," he said.
She eventually gave her blessing to her husband, Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, and son, but the coach added that he knows he will hear about it from Kristen if there is any contentiousness between the two. "I'm never prepared for that, I can tell you that straight up," Doc Rivers said with a smile.
Both Rivers promised that their relationship will be professional in the strictest.
Austin dismissed any notion that his father would give him preferential treatment regardless of how he is playing.
"My dad is too focused on his thing for that to even be an issue; that's almost a disrespectful thing to my dad," Austin said. "My dad would never, ever play me over somebody because I'm his son. If I'm not playing well, I'm sitting on the bench. He wants to win. My dad's the type of guy when I was 5 years old, we played checkers and he would not let me win. That's just how he is. He's not doing any favors for me."
Doc and Austin didn't foresee any chemistry issues in the locker room after the trade, and Austin believes the players already in the locker room will actually make the transition easier for him.
"I have to earn everything here, and the guys know that," Austin said. "If we didn't have high-character guys here I don't think he would have made the move, but they're all high-character guys and they know I will play because I should play, and if I shouldn't, I won't. I'm just here to have a good attitude and help the team."
When asked if he could have a conflict of interest when he hears teammates complain about their coach, Austin Rivers said he's going to respect locker-room code above anything else.
"I'm not going to be like, 'Oh, he's talking about my dad,'" he said. "I've felt that way too at times about people. That's sports. You're not always going to be the happiest at your coach, and I understand that. They're not nervous about saying something around me either. They know that I'm not going to say anything, it's just not the right thing to do. That would be the wrong way to go about this. I'm just in there like anybody else."
And it seems as if the team's taken to their new friend quickly.
About 75 minutes before tipoff, Jordan squeezed his massive frame into a folding chair next to Austin Rivers in the Clippers' locker room. Jordan's message to his new teammate was direct: Be aggressive. Don't worry about anything else. It's just basketball. "He said, 'We don't care if you go one for eight,'" Rivers said, recalling Jordan's words, "'because that's just basketball.'"
It's good to see the new guy have a positive impact, and if his old man has a say, there will be more fresh faces sooner or later.
Doc Rivers said one area he’s focused on in the second half of the year is finding a more consistent rotation with second unit so they can develop continuity playing with one another. "That’s on me," he said after Saturday’s win in Sacramento.
The team probably isn’t done adding to the roster, with two available roster spots and one player, Dahntay Jones, on a 10-day contract. Still, Rivers isn’t frantic, and he’s vowed to be patient. While he’d like to solve all the Clippers’ problems, he knows whoever ends up as the league’s best will have had to overcome some shortcomings.
"We don’t have the perfect team," he said. "… But I haven’t seen the perfect team yet. Every team has some kind of flaw, and we’re fine with that."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
As most Americans should be aware, today is Martin Luther King day, a federal holiday dedicated to commemorating the man and his accomplishments. It's also a reminder to us to remember that while progress should be celebrated, it should not obfuscate the very real challenges that still remain to be confronted today.
Many people may not realize how the FBI (led by J. Edgar Hoover) stalked, harassed, and threatened Dr. King (even telling him to commit suicide). It's still an open question as to whether they actually killed him themselves, but the King family actually won a civil case alleging conspiracy in a plot to kill MLK.
If you read anything by the man today, read his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", an ultimately timeless piece of literature that still rings true today. Happy half-season, and happy MLK day.
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.