Identity has been a popular word for the Los Angeles Clippers over the last several seasons. Beginning in the summer of 2013 with the acquisition of head coach Doc Rivers and punctuated by Steve Ballmer’s purchase of the franchise, the Clippers have been relentless in their attempt to be synonymous with success after so many seasons of failure. Prematurely thrown into the championship conversation and dropped into the pressure cooker, the Clippers, despite having a very real Big 3 in place with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, have been unable to establish the continuity and consistency necessary to flourish at the desired level.
The Clippers have become known complainers, whiners and excuse-makers in an NBA that doesn’t want to hear it. Doc Rivers has a desire to vocalize his opinion on seemingly every 50-50 call that doesn’t go his way; Blake Griffin follows the Carlos Boozer flow chart of vocal complaints and Chris Paul flops more often than a fish in the back kitchen of your favorite sushi restaurant. More often seen as a pretender than true contender, it’s time for the Clippers to grow up.
This is a team that needs to understand who it is if the Clippers will ever come close to fulfilling their lofty potential. A talented roster loaded with capable leadership on and off the court, Los Angeles needs to stop trying to be the team everybody loves to hate. The suggestion that this Clippers squad needs to embrace a villain mentality could not be more flawed. The fake tough guy stuff is played out, the cumulative positive effect is minimal at best and the graduation date is past due for a club that needs to walk across the stage.
Rivers, on balance, has leveled the scale since his arrival; brushing aside troublesome losses that no doubt sting, downplaying wins that are typically elating. He resides behind the shield of a championship ring — a title buys impunity, it buys political capital. Hold a franchise together through an ownership crisis? Even more capital. But for all the calmness he brings to a locker room, very little has translated in composing the lineup and filling the margins.
That’s what Andrew Han wrote about the Clippers for ESPN at the beginning of 2015, and very little has changed as we prepare for 2016’s arrival. While the roster has undoubtedly improved since last season with the arrivals of Paul Pierce, Josh Smith and even Lance Stephenson among other reinforcements, the talent hasn’t translated and Los Angeles sits at an average 6-4 through its first 10 games of the season. This is supposed to be the deepest roster in Clippers history in a year that was set to have a different tone, but so much feels too familiar when we know the same hasn’t proven good enough.
Like so many others, I had hoped that the summer of foolishness that resulted in DeAndre Jordan’s initial departure and re-arrival had meant that the Clippers were on the verge of a breakthrough, but there are the same warning signs that have preceded flashing lights prior. Too often complaining about the foul that wasn’t called and airing their grievances like everyday was Festivus, the Clippers need to plow through the perceived distractions and let their play do all required talking.
With so many outspoken teammates, the quiet voice of veteran Jamal Crawford often gets lost on a team littered with big personalities. Famously uninvolved with luring Jordan back to the only home he’s ever known, Crawford’s “actions speak louder than words” advice has never resonated at a greater volume. Pierce—who could retire at season’s end—was brought in to provide leadership in a locker room that needs it, Paul turns 31 in May and Griffin’s long-term Clippers future is anything except a trademark slam dunk. There is real urgency for this team to be heard, and it has everything to do with their on-court performance, not the noise from running their mouths.
‘Don’t chase, just embrace’ should be the team’s new motto as it moves toward attempting to secure foreign territory. Greatness is a process that can’t be artificially manufactured. There has to be a clear understanding of failure’s root cause before a tree of success can be planted. When the Clippers understand that an identity is something built, cultivated and earned over time instead of simply a wonton label of their choosing is the moment Los Angeles will have achieved its maturation. Until then, the Clippers crying game will keep continue to fall on deaf ears.