I recently watched a video by YouTuber Kenny Beecham titled “Being an NBA fan is extremely stressful”. It struck something of a chord with me as a Los Angeles Clippers fan, and it was seemingly the same for fans of many other teams.
One of the points that Kenny makes in the video is that success is hard to achieve, because there are 30 teams chasing one Holy Grail. Which fans could truly look at their team’s past season and say wholeheartedly that they thought it was a success? I think even Phoenix Suns fans will feel some sadness that they couldn’t take that final step.
As a fan of a team who had never reached a conference final, and to do so in the circumstances they did, I felt proud as the Clippers bowed out to the Phoenix Suns. Yet I still couldn’t shake the feeling that things could’ve been so different if injuries hadn’t derailed our postseason. Of course, fans of the Lakers, Nets, and possibly a few more teams could say the same.
Once the dust had settled I was prepared to call it a successful season, based on the fact that the team had made history, proved a lot of the post-Bubble critics wrong, and did so with their hands effectively tied behind their backs. Even if you boil it down to the individuals, it’s hard to think of a name you could sincerely say was a huge disappointment — aside from Rajon Rondo.
So, now that we know we’re likely to spend much of this season without Kawhi Leonard, what would success look like for the Clippers? Whatever happens in the regular season we know we’ll have a “what if”, but if we secure homecourt advantage again, Kawhi gets back for the playoffs and we keep the rest of the core healthy, that perception could change quickly.
For the past two years, this team has been classed as a bonafide title contender. Any sane basketball observer could recognise the depth of talent available in the first year, and the same applied in the second year with the addition of a couple more pieces and a more recent championship-calibre coach in Ty Lue.
The Clippers have decided to run it back for the most part heading into the new campaign, and you suspect the Kawhi injury will only spur the guys who were already around to step up in his absence. Most of this squad will still have the taste of last season in their mouths and that can only make them hungry for more, which should filter through to the new guys too.
Before a ball is tipped, most would probably take another playoff run like the one that ended just a few short months back, but even if we don’t hit those same heights there are still factors that could make the season a success. In a league where there is only one top team prize, there has to be some value in the individual seasons of our guys.
In the absence of Kawhi, perhaps Paul George can launch himself into regular season MVP or even Defensive Player of the Year conversations, though the latter award has fallen back in favour of the big men since The Klaw won it back-to-back with the Spurs. The Clippers have been home to five of the last eight Sixth Man of the Year winners, so maybe there’s a sleeper in the ranks there. I’ve already made a case for Terance Mann and the Most Improved Player award.
When we look back on last season, we’ll remember it for how those individual stories helped cultivate a collective success story. A similar scenario developing this season doesn’t seem beyond the realms of possibility, especially with the injury adversity already in place and showing no signs of a quicker fix.
However, that ultimate team success is still not out of the question, so we shouldn’t be writing ourselves out at this stage. It will take the heart this team showed last season and a whole lot more luck to get them over the line, but stranger things have happened and the margins are so small in this league. The Bucks, for example, were a couple of millimeters away from likely firing their head coach, but they fell on the right side of history and Mike Budenholzer was rewarded with a three-year extension because of that.
The Clippers have ended up on the wrong side of history a few too many times, but you sense that this group can ensure they’re remembered for all the right reasons. They’ve built the foundation for that already, now they can give themselves the chance to take that next step towards a title.
Playoff home court advantage, keeping the team healthy, some more individual success stories, but most of all ensuring that they’re firmly in the conversation for championship contention. I’d say that would be enough cause for celebration for fans of this franchise.