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The Clippers will feel fundamentally different without Patrick Beverley

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Beverley was the physical embodiment of L.A. Our Way.

2021 NBA Playoffs: Phoenix Suns v LA Clippers - Game Six Photo by Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images

In his very first game as a Clipper, Patrick Beverley announced himself to the team and to the city as only he could. It took all of one quarter to learn what he would bring to this franchise.

Lonzo Ball was the talk of the town, the second overall pick for the Lakers, and his dad LaVar made it clear that even Steph Curry couldn’t guard his son. But Beverley got the first crack at Ball in 2017 opener, and he was more than up to the challenge. He probably set back Ball’s development a good 20 games by putting the clamps on the rookie in his NBA debut.

Beverley relished those battles against the Lakers, even egging on dissatisfied fans whenever the Clippers would beat their crosstown rivals. He had a memorable strip of LeBron James on Christmas Day in 2019, never shying away from taking on the Clippers’ glitzy neighbors on the floor or in the court of public opinion.

In his time as a Clipper, Beverley was a man of the people, and his people were the ones in the back. He played for the fans who could identify with his story. Beverley was an underdog his whole life, but he didn’t want to carry himself like one, and he didn’t want the Clippers or their fans to feel like underdogs. That was the spirit he brought to Los Angeles.

When I think of “L.A. Our Way”, I think of Patrick Beverley. Now, he’s no longer a Clipper.

It’s understandable why the Clippers made the trade to send Beverley, Rajon Rondo, and Daniel Oturu to Memphis for Eric Bledsoe. They had too many players and needed to clear spots for their rookies. Beverley and Rondo are notoriously fragile as well, while Bledsoe is a hallmark of durability. With all of the injury concerns on the roster (Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka, and Marcus Morris Sr.) immediately come to mind, the Clippers needed a player who can suit up every night. Beverley is getting older, and the Clippers made a calculated risk to get younger and more athletic with Bledsoe.

But there are meaningful concessions that the Clippers are making with this deal. Beverley brings a certain fire, one that inspires his teammates. Beverley is an elite 3-point shooter, while Bledsoe has been league average only twice in his 11 seasons. Beverley was a key cog in the Clippers rotation in the conference semifinals and finals (being played off the court by Luka Dončić is more of a reflection on Luka than Pat), and the Milwaukee Bucks felt the need to jettison Bledsoe because of his repeated playoff failures.

The Clippers are losing a core piece of their identity for the past four seasons. Beverley was all about the team, we over me.

When Beverley lost his starting spot in his second season to Avery Bradley despite soundly outplaying him, he brought his same production off the bench while supporting Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in his new role. After the trade deadline, Beverley was promoted to the starting five again, but this time at small forward. That meant the 6’1 guard had to contend with the likes of Kevin Durant, so he did.

After the 2018-19 season, Beverley had the opportunity to cash in as a free agent — Sacramento reportedly offered $10 million more than the Clippers did — but he chose to stay in Los Angeles and see through what he had helped build. His role further diminished as the roster turned over, but his production didn’t, even when he was once again relegated to the bench in the postseason. There was a ceiling on what Beverley could provide, but the floor was still high. Beverley worked to become a role player worthy of a championship team.

It didn’t result in a ring, but it did mean two more years of Beverley getting in Russell Westbrook’s face or waving goodbye to Damian Lillard or amping up Clipper Nation in a way that only Beverley could.

The Clippers have now said good-bye to the entire core of that 2018-19 team that lost in the first round to Golden State. There have been basketball reasons for all of those decisions — the most specious being trading Lou Williams for Rondo, though even that move made some sense at the time — but it’s fair to wonder if the Clippers deliberately wanted to reset the team around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Only Ivica Zubac predates those two, and he doesn’t have the personality to influence a locker room the way Beverley or Williams did.

Whatever clashes reportedly occurred between the old and new guard in 2019-20 are moot. That old guard no longer exists. Beverley was the last thread of that Clippers era.

His last outing with the Clippers was one to forget, an example of his emotions getting the better of him, which wasn’t exactly infrequent over the last four seasons. But the Game 6 before that, the one against Utah that clinched the franchise’s first-ever conference finals appearance, is a better encapsulation of what Beverley meant to this team.

In that game, he had 12 points, three steals, and four assists — all postseason highs — while sinking three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter as Staples Center exploded. He limited Donovan Mitchell to three points while he was guarding him. Afterwards, Beverley was asked about what the moment meant to him.

“Special, special, special,” Beverley said. “Celebrating just to get in the playoffs, seeing a lot of people come and go, a lot of friends, and to be with an organization like this, to finish a game like this, to make history, is special, man. Because I, you know, blood, sweat and tears into this s---, injuries, friend getting traded, ups and downs of basketball, to be the last man standing and kind of write history is special, man, very special....

“For as long as I’ve been here, been working our ass off trying to change the culture of this team. Try to, you know, make us one of those grit teams, those grinding teams. For that to be on full display tonight is very special. Like anything in life, the cream always rise to the top. You get out what you put in, and as a team, as a unit, coaching staff, players, office, we put work into this for years, and we are fortunate that it’s paying off.”

The Clippers have built an excellent team for 2021-22 even with Leonard expected to miss much if not all of the upcoming season. But it will feel a little strange to watch this new iteration of the Clippers, one that doesn’t bear the scars of its recent failures, a team that was built out of stars and not exactly underdogs.

It will mostly feel strange to watch the Clippers without Patrick Beverley. His voice and his presence were one of a kind.