By: Cory Vest
Playing second fiddle in Los Angeles, the Clippers can be seen as the Lakers’ ugly little sister, or the fat friend, or the red headed step child. However you want to say it, the Clippers are always the bridesmaid and never the bride when it comes to LA basketball. It’s hard to find love when you share a home with such a successful and storied franchise. Banners hang from the rafters of the Staples Center, constantly taunting and reminding the Clippers of how great the Lakers are, errr were.
Despite the Lakers missing the playoffs for the fourth straight year and having records that make lowly teams such as the Brooklyn Nets and Minnesota Timberwolves look like solid franchises, the Clippers still can’t find respect. Just because the Lakers have been doing poor doesn’t translate into the Clippers gaining recognition; but, consider this, while the Lakers have made themselves at home at the bottom of the cellar, the Clippers have made the playoffs in six straight years. That’s right, six straight playoff appearances.
Still not impressed? I am not necessarily saying you should be, although they do deserve a pat on the back at least. Let me take you back in history, prior to their playoff ticket being punched six straight times. Dial 1978 into your time machines, back to the days when the Clippers, who were previously known as the Buffalo Braves, took on a new name and a new home in San Diego. Ah, the San Diego Clippers, doesn’t sound too bad. From 1978 to 2011 (their start to the spree of six straight playoffs) the Clippers made the playoffs a total of four times. Think about that for a second, a sample size that spans over 33 years, consists of four playoff appearances. Four in 33 years, compared to the recent six in six years. All of it started when the core of Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan came together. Whether you are a Clippers fan or not, you must admit that that is an impressive feat for a franchise that ranks second to last in NBA history for overall winning percentage.
Come, take my hand as I lead you through the Clippers’ woes of days gone by. We’ll start in 1984 when the Clippers moved from San Diego to Los Angeles. From 1984 to 2011 (27 yrs.), the LA Clippers finished 14th in the Western Conference three times. Five times, the Clippers laid claim to the 13th spot. The Clippers finished 12th six times. A not so lowly, yet still crumby, 11th place, was accomplished by the Clippers five times. As we go higher in the standings, we get lower in total count. The 10th spot was the Clippers’ home thrice. Twice, the Clippers said hello to 9th spot. The almighty 8th seed, the playoff worthy seed, shook hands with the Clippers once. Oddly enough however, the Clippers’ record that year was ten games under .500 (36-46). We’re almost done with our journey don’t worry. The 7th seed was the Clippers’ rank twice, and the 6th seed was seen by the Clippers once. That was probably painful for some, possibly amusing for others.
While making friends at the bottom of the bunch, the Clippers achieved 40 or more wins a total of five times over the 33-year span previously explored. In the stretch of six years starting with the 2011-12 season they’ve hit the 40 or more-win mark every year. Their best record came in 2013-14 when they went 57-25. In the years before, and after, that season, the Clippers went 56-26. That is some top tier stuff right there. The Clippers have finished 5th, 4th, 3rd, 3rd, 4th, and 4th, in the Western Conference, respectively from 2011 to 2017. Notice they did not reach 5th place a single time from 1984 to 2011, in fact they didn’t finish in the top five since they became the Clippers.
What is my point behind all of this? Give these guys some credit. The Clippers franchise has really turned things around. They started from the bottom and now they’re here. They’ve taken steps toward success, and found it. With a line-up that earned the moniker Lob City, they have done their best to wrestle the spotlight away from the Lakers. The roster has flashy names such as Blake Griffin, who averaged 21.6 points, 8.1 boards and 4.9 assists this past season while holding down the power forward position. DeAndre Jordan was a presence at center pulling down 13.8 rebounds, while chipping in 12.7 points. Of course, Chris Paul headlined the team’s roster at point guard as he averaged 18.1 points, 9.2 assists, and 5.0 rebounds. The core of Griffin, Jordan, and Paul have been together for six years, and have made the playoffs in all six of those years.
Have you acknowledged their recent success? Tipped your cap to a solid roster that has finished in the top half of the Western Conference in five consecutive years? Realized that they have turned a losing franchise into a winning one? Ok good.
Let’s get back to hating the Clippers now. In the six years they made the playoffs, they’ve never made it past the Conference Semis. Of the six series they’ve lost, they held a series lead in five of them. In 2013, they led the Grizzlies 2-0 in games, yet lost the next four games. The Clippers took game one against the Thunder in 2014. They lost two in a row before taking game four, then lost two more in a row to drop the series. 2015, saw the Clippers blow a 3-1 series lead against the Rockets. The Trail Blazers came back from being down 2-0 to beat the Clippers four straight games to claim the series. And then, after being up 2 games to 1, the Clippers dropped game 7 at home to a Utah Jazz team that hadn’t seen the second round since 2010. If you are going to be good during the season and make the playoffs in six consecutive years, you have to know how to protect a series lead.
So, what happens now? The big three have had so much regular season success, and have had lofty expectations, but have lost in the first round three times, while only reaching the Conference Semis the other three. Expectations have not necessarily been met, and on top of this, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are set to become free agents this year. While Paul is one of the better point guards in the league, who somehow manages to only get better come playoff time, he is only getting older. Paul is 31-years old and just finished up his 11th year of his career. Do you bring back the PG who has yet to reach a Conference Finals? If not, who would replace such impressive numbers and his veteran presence? What about Griffin? Although he puts up very respectable numbers, Griffin can be a bit one dimensional. Playing the role of a true power forward, Griffin is strong inside and can run the pick and roll good enough, but lacks range and struggles at the free throw line. The past two years, Griffin has suffered a first-round injury causing him to make an early exit.
My two cents, let Griffin walk, and get rid of Jordan. Although both players possess talent, they are traditional style players. In a league that now requires fluidity and the ability to play/guard multiple positions, Griffin fulfills the duties of a power forward and a power forward only. Jordan is a classic center as he protects the rim and can only score inside. If he gets to the free throw line, you can only hope he manages to connect on one of the two. Jordan, does you no good when he is forced to stray from his post. The Clippers must adapt to the league and find players who are multidimensional. Take a page out of the book of the reigning Western Conference champs, the Golden State Warriors. Making the playoffs is awesome, especially considering the woes of the franchise’s history, but as minor goals are met, bigger ones need to be fulfilled as well.