I was born in the late 1960s. In the real world—you know, that place where "cleaning the glass" involves mysterious blue chemicals in a spray bottle and "finishing at the rim" is what teenage boys do on their first shot attempt—that makes me a middle-aged man. On Clips Nation, however, that makes me old. As in long-scraggly-gray-beard-hanging-down-past-my-droopy-nutsack old.
Being old has few advantages, but thankfully one of them is the wisdom that comes from having seen the same things over and over again. You learn not to get too worked up about stuff that doesn't matter. You remember that Anthony Randolph was the GOAT in his first summer league. That Al-Farouq Aminu was a 55% three-point shooter after his first 20 games in the NBA. That Michael Jordan couldn't get past the Pistons in the playoffs for three straight years.
So I'm going to take advantage of my decrepit olditude by dropping some truth bombs on all of you who are freaking out over the Clippers' slow start this year. As anyone who read my last column knows, I'm hardly a Pollyanna when it comes to my favorite team. They have flaws. Plenty of them. But a 6-4 start doesn't mean they're worse than we thought they were three weeks ago, any more than a 9-1 start would've meant that they're better. And here's why:
1) Blake Griffin is really good at basketball. Is he currently the third-best player in the league? Fourth? Seventh? I'm not exactly sure, but here's one thing I do know: If I were the Clippers' GM, I'd be hanging up the phone unless the name coming from the other end was Steph, LeBron, or AD. And yes, I'm well aware this means that I just said I wouldn't trade Blake Griffin for Kevin Durant.
2) CP3 is too. Some guy named Chris Paul has played seven games so far for the Clippers this season. But we have yet to see @therealbangbangmotherf***erCP3 suit up this year. The guy who's played for us has had a broken finger on his shooting hand and a pulled groin. (And trust me, having your groin pulled isn't nearly as fun as it sounds.) At some point, the real CP3 will be back, and he will do what he always does: Play phenomenal defense, hit clutch shots, and make everyone around him better.
3) The team's three-point shooting will revert to the mean. The Clippers are shooting 31% from deep this year, good for 26th in the league. I've got, hmmm, let's say $500K that both of those numbers will be higher by the end of the season. Any takers? Yeah, didn't think so.
4) The Clippers have more talent than they've ever had before. As previously mentioned, I'm not a huge fan of any of the new guys they brought in this offseason (The Truth excepted, of course). But the mere fact that all of those guys have their flaws doesn't mean that they don't have their virtues too. The Clippers have an entire second unit of guys who are still good enough to start for somebody in the NBA. They've got guys buried at the end of the bench that would be rotation players for most teams. There's just too much to work with here to believe that they won't be able to land on a solid nine-man rotation before long.
5) It takes time to integrate a bunch of new players. With roster turnover comes growing pains. Doc Rivers will need a couple of months to figure out how to best fit the pieces together. The players will need about the same to get to know each other's tendencies and get on the same page. Things will look a lot different in February than they do in November.
6) It takes time to implement a new defensive scheme. I'm not sure why Doc decided to abandon the strong hedges and traps by the bigs on pick-and-rolls, especially now that, in Josh Smith, they would seem to finally have a third guy with the athleticism to pull it off. (My guess is that they want to be able to do it both ways so they can mix up their coverages and not be too predictable, and that we'll see a lot more hedging/trapping come playoff time.) And I'm also not sure why they've started to switch almost everything on the perimeter. (My guess is ... hell if I know.) But I do know that getting the timing down for those sorts of schematic changes takes a while. Again, things will look a lot different in February than they do in November.
7) Austin Rivers?!?!?!?! Yes, Austin Rivers. Seriously. That stuff we saw in the playoffs was not a fluke. The guy is balling, on both ends of the floor. Two years ago, if Austin Rivers was your team's fifth- or sixth-best player, you would've had a shit-ton of ping-pong balls in May. Now it may actually mean you're good enough to play into June.
8) In the ridiculously stacked Western Conference, all bets are off. Last year the Clippers won 56 games and got the 3 seed. The Spurs won 55 and ended up sixth. San Antonio came one Chris Paul miracle shot from winning their first-round series and then likely rolling past Houston to the WCF. The Clippers, meanwhile, were a Josh Smith and Corey Brewer miracle quarter from rolling past Houston and making the WCF. All three teams were good, and all three had a pretty much equal chance of getting to the conference finals. Yes, home-court advantage is nice, but it doesn't matter nearly as much as how you're playing come spring. Doc Rivers, who took a 50-win 4-seed to Game 7 of the NBA Finals in 2010, knows this as well as anyone. Slow start notwithstanding, the Clippers will certainly be in the top 6 and more than likely in the top 4. Which means these 82 games are largely a chance to get the kinks worked out before the real season begins.
9) The Clips have already shown they can play with anyone, anywhere. Until the Nets took a Klay Thompson-less Golden State squad to OT on Saturday, LAC was the only team in the league that could say they had given the 11-0 Warriors a game. On Nov. 4, with both teams' starting backcourts then intact, the visiting Clippers held a 10-point lead at Oracle Arena with eight minutes to play. They still had a one-point lead with 1:17 left on the clock. If not for an atrocious performance from the second unit—12 of 32 from the field, 2 of 11 from deep—the Clips very well could've hung the Dubs with their only L of the season.
Now, all nine of the above things are true. But sadly they also may not make a damn bit of difference. Because if you want to freak out, here's what you should actually be freaking out about:
10) The only thing that can beat the Warriors this year is bad luck. Geezer that I am, I was in my early-to-mid 20s in the early-to-mid 1990s. And for much of that time, I lived in Chicago. I went to eight playoff games at Chicago Stadium the year Jordan's Bulls won their first title. And I still remember the 72-win Bulls of '95-'96 like it was yesterday. They were indisputably the greatest team of my lifetime ... until now. Because the team we all love to hate has stepped up to dispute it. I'm not sure which team would actually win a seven-game series—it's hard for me to think anybody could've knocked MJ off that mountain—but these Warriors are certainly more balanced than those Bulls, more talented top to bottom. That team was maybe seven deep, if you're inclined to give Luc Longley the benefit of the doubt. And while Curry may not be the GOAT, I'm pretty sure he is the GSOAT ("s" for "shooter," if you're slow on the uptake). So no, watching the Clippers play this year hasn't worried me at all. But watching Golden State play has. If they stay healthy, they're winning it all, no matter what the Clippers do.