December 09, 2010
Well, of course I love the Los Angeles Clippers again. No sentient being with warm blood coursing through his veins could not.
Of course, no sane being with a head on his or her shoulders can do anything but hate the Clippers.
Hate the team's skeevy, probably racist, owner. Hate the way he declines to pay those that he's contractually obligated to, from the guys who once stalked the sideline with a clipboard in hand to the behind-the-scenes employees that give NBA teams a fighting chance 82 times a year. Hate that they went cheap in hiring (well intentioned) Vinny Del Negro, and loose with the money they threw at Baron Davis(notes). Hate how it's always the same thing with them, every year. How they'll be great "once those youngsters get it together."
But between those lines? This is a team to love. Even when Baron's on the court, taking some of the dumbest shots known to man (did you see that 3-pointer to end the third quarter against the Lakers on Wednesday? Sure, it went in, but how lazy was that?). And while the blood tends to thin and the eyes pull wide open because of Blake Griffin(notes), mostly, this irrepressible team is full of players to fall for.
Rookie Al-Farouq Aminu's(notes) name reminds of the song performed here, and he's cashing in on the paucity of wings on the Clipper bench, shooting a white-hot 49 percent from behind the 3-point arc, and driving recklessly to the basket when he can. It's fantastic. Center DeAndre Jordan(notes) still has so, so much to work out basketball-wise, but his heart is in the place. And, as Matt Moore pointed out Wednesday night, the once whippet-thin jumping jack has put on so much muscle that "you could land helicopters on his shoulders." Del Negro would just settle for better pick-and-roll defense.
And Eric Gordon(notes)? Boy, were we off in anticipating his ceiling. The NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer (so far this year, go easy Kobe fans) has taken off in his third season, dropping over 24 points a game on 45 percent shooting (great numbers, considering his four threes shot per game with a 29 percent success rate are bringing things down), with 4.5 assists per contest. Contests he keeps the Clippers in.
And Craig Smith(notes), the Rhino? He's on this team. Setting illegal screens and clearing the glass and generally making second quarters his own. And Eric Bledsoe(notes), so clueless in his first year as an NBA point guard, but so engaged and earnest. And Blake Griffin, still around. Just a barely tapped treasure trove of awesome.
Adrian Wojnarowski perfectly captured Griffin's stare, as Wednesday night's cruel loss to the Lakers wrapped up. The hurt and frustration and "seriously, this is how it goes?" realization after Derek Fisher's(notes) buzzer beater banked in. And Woj was right. All these players will probably leave the Clippers. Their owner could fork up the cash, the price could be right, but what does it matter when everything but the players goes wrong, every year, and the to-be stars want out?
I don't want to make this a fait accompli, but until the Clippers sustain something meaningful -- a winning core built from the ground up -- why should we think any different? Why, with the money all the same, would someone like Elton Brand(notes) want to go to the 76ers? I'm not going to feel bad about old world assumptions when the old (young) Clippers turn up again year after year after ruddy year.
There goes that brain, again. Back to heart, the one that was pounding throughout the NBA-o-sphere Wednesday night for these Clippers. Not only is this team a must-watch, this group has turned into a must-love. Even with Baron. There's too much fun there to have your brain ruin it for you.