The Lovable Los Angeles Clippers

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Folks… we’re back. One Olympics, dozens of free agency moves, and no less than a billion “The Warriors Blew A 3-1 Lead In The NBA Finals” jokes later, actual NBA basketball is back in our lives. Over the next week on What’s The Action dotcom I’ll be bringing you those fire NBA takes and prognostications. We’ll talk Durant and the Warriors. We’ll talk Lebron and the Cavs. We’ll talk Wolves and Celtics and Bulls and Clippers. We’ll talk Westbrook and Harden, Kawhi and Dame, Davis and Boogie, and of course, the blessing that is JR Smith. And yes, we’ll talk Knicks. So much Knicks. So much Kristaps, so much Melo, so much D-Rose. More Knicks than you can possibly consume. But guess what, you’ll consume it nonetheless because you love basketball as much as I do. And from now until the Cavs and Knicks tip at 8:00pm on Tuesday, October 25th, I’m gonna do everything I can to get you ready for the 2016-17 NBA Season. This is The What’s The Action NBA Preview. Let’s hoop.

I hate the Clippers. I’ve hated the Clipper for the past four years. You hate the Clippers. I know you do because everyone in the NBA from fans to players to front offices hates the Clippers.

But why do we hate them?

When you go down the roster it doesn’t make much sense. Within the core rotation of this Clippers team sit some of the most likeable guys in the NBA. Just go down the list.

Blake Griffin is one of, if not the most personable, genuinely hilarious superstars we’ve seen in the last 20 years – who, along with that, plays an thrilling, unselfish, and quietly crafty brand of basketball that is unique to his position.

DeAndre Jordan is athletic freak… a force both defensively and in the pick-and-roll… who’s gregarious personality would make him one of the league’s most entertaining bench guys if he hadn’t worked his ass off to become borderline All-NBA center.

The Rivers Family? Okay fine I hate both of them. Austin’s outrageously misguided overconfidence. Doc’s incredulous looks and incessent whining. They suck.

But JJ Reddick? JJ has somehow, inexplicably shed the “Duke Villain” stigma… improved his game leaps and bounds to become a highly productive, thoroughly enjoyable role player to watch… and became a burgeoning media star over the last year.

Jamal Crawford? I’m sorry but who in the absolute fuck does not like watching Jamal Crawford play basketball? Find me one self-respecting basketball fan who doesn’t enjoy J-Crossover’s game and I’ll eat my hat.

Chris Paul? Okay… it’s pretty easy to hate Chris Paul. But we are still talking about the best pure point guard of the last 20 years. An absolute pitbull floor general who’s passing and ability to take over a game in the fourth has become significantly under-appreciated over time.

And Paul Pierce… yo I haaaaated Paul Pierce. Hated him as much as anyone after watching him murder my Knicks and helicopter around the court time and time again during his Celtics tenure. Once that Knicks bias is removed? It’s almost impossible not to enjoy that crafty old man game or to respect his ability to rise to the occasion in big moments.

All the pieces are there. Everything about the makeup of this team screams for us to embrace them. We shouldn’t hate the Clippers

But still we do.

And for good reason.

We hate their completely unfounded sense of entitlement. We hate that they carry themselves like a Championship team despite never reaching the Conference Finals. We hate the whining to the referees. We hate how they complain after every… single… call. We hate that they were everything the (formerly) beloved Warriors weren’t. We hate that the second things don’t go their way they go into meltdown mode. We hate their new uniforms. We hate Doc Rivers’ bullshit. We hate Los Angeles in general.

We all hate the Los Angeles Clippers.

 

Now we have to learn to love them.

Because the Los Angeles Clippers are the only team that could maybe, possibly, potentially contend with the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference this year

  • San Antonio? Say, for a second, that San Antonio decides to move LaMarcus Aldridge. This is a very real possibility, as rumors of his unhappiness have been swirling for the past week or so. They’re handing the keys to Kawhi Leonard, yet the roster around him doesn’t quite fit. Tim Duncan is gone. Parker and Ginobli are on their last legs. Pau might well be primed for one last year, but he’s a downgrade defensively from Duncan. LaMarcus, for all his offensive talent, is a below average defender and a less than perfect fit for their ball movement-oriented scheme. This team was ill-equipped to beat the Warriors last year, let alone with Durant. Kawhi is 25. Lamarcus is 31 and a free agent after next season. Moving him now for young, athletic pieces is the smarter long term decision. And even if they don’t, there’s just not enough firepower on the perimeter to contend with Golden State.
  • Oklahoma City? We all know what happened with Oklahoma City. They’re not contending with the Warriors, no matter the homicidal efforts of Russell Westbrook.
  • Utah? No star power… Houston? No defense… Minnesota? Too young… Memphis? Too old… Portland? Denver? Dallas? Now we’re just grasping at straws.

No team in the Western Conference has a better chance to push the Warriors this season than the Los Angeles Clippers.

A good chance? No. For the last two years the Clippers have been abysmal at defending the Warriors and that will only get harder with Durant. They lack the size and athleticism on the perimeter to keep up with those shooters. They lack the discipline and versatility to switch defensively like other teams can. They lack any real interior depth behind Blake and DeAndre, short of the occasional Mo Buckets hot streak. They have no starting-caliber small forward again, which is a problem not only in guarding Durant or spacing the floor offensively, but also in their ability to match up with the Warriors small-ball lineups.

But they do have two stars… Two top fifteen players with the ability to score and to take over games and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors stars at a level unlike anyone outside of Cleveland. They have a healthy, highly motivated Blake Giffin who is itching to remind people why he was third in MVP just two years ago. They have a defender in Chris Paul who’s really been the only guard that’s shown the capability to go head-to-head with Steph on both ends of the court (with respect to Kyrie and what he did in the Finals). They have the newfound willingness of Chris Paul to let the offense run through Blake significantly more this season. They have the power forward (Lebron not included) most capable of matching up with Draymond as a small-ball five. They have a well balanced, explosive offense capable of posting numbers comparable to Golden State. They have the benefit of four-plus years of continuity between their core. They have a real, capable backup point guard in Ray Felton.

And most of all, they have the benefit of our support.

For the first time in years, the world is not against the Los Angeles Clippers. They’re not the league’s villain. That title was vanquished the day Kevin Durant penned his Player’s Tribune letter to join Golden State. They no longer wear the black hat, and that’s a better look for them.

They were never meant to be the team they became. Blake Griffin is too fun, DeAndre Jordan is too happy. JJ Reddick has come too far from his Duke days, Jamal Crawford has broken too many ankles. Paul Pierce’s villainous days are long behind him. Chris Paul hasn’t made it far enough to play that role.

This team should have been the embodiment of joy on the court that Golden State was the last two years. They should have been that fun. They should have played with that youthful exuberance. Instead, they took all those expectations and all that pressure and allowed themselves to believe into the hype. They acted like they were at the top of the mountain before they actually got there – then couldn’t handle it when teams would pull them down a peg. They became incredulous. They became bitter. They became angry. And they took on this personality that never really fit who they were.

That all changes now.

Now they’re the underdog that the crowd is actually pulling for in this rivalry. Now they’re not the team that most recently choked away a major playoff series. Now they’re the more likable squad with the more likable stars. Blake Griffin didn’t leave town to play with his biggest rival. DeAndre Jordan didn’t blow a 3-1 lead in the Finals. Chris Paul did actually punch someone in the dick on a basketball court, but that was like 10 years ago.

These Clippers are now the lovable upstart between the two – weird as that may sound.

You may not like the Clippers now, but you’re going to learn to love them. You may not want to, but you’re going to have to. The Warriors look poised to rip through the rest of the West like tissue paper – and the only hope for some form of competition comes from LA.

Like it or not… the Clips are really all we’ve got.


Read all the NBA content from the week over at The What’s The Action NBA Preview page.

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