COMMENTARY | There is no miracle elixir that rids a basketball franchise of its past ills and instantly makes it a championship contender.
However, the Los Angeles Clippers might be on to something.
Since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1984, their record through last season stands at 802-1,446 -- an atrocious .357 winning percentage. Moreover, they have only qualified for the postseason in five of their last 28 seasons in Los Angeles.
Fast forward to today, and their current record stands at 41-18, which is on pace to besting a franchise record in regular-season victories. Just last season, they posted their highest winning percentage since moving to Los Angeles albeit during a lockout-shortened season. This historical turnaround has NBA prognosticators putting the Clippers amongst favored championship contenders.
Have the Clippers discovered the secret of basketball? The question itself begets a preceding question: What is the secret of basketball?
The first chapter of Bill Simmons' book, "The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy: Bill Simmons," devotes time to opining on the secret of basketball and winning championships. Simmons descriptively narrates a meeting he had with Hall of Famer and two-time NBA champion Isiah Thomas. Naturally, the sports banter between the two would gravitate towards basketball.
Simmons posed a question to Thomas regarding the secret of basketball. Thomas, who thought wistfully of his own 1989 and 1990 championships as a member of the Detroit Pistons, answered, "The secret of basketball is that it's not about basketball." In short, basketball goes beyond the Xs and Os, as well as the rudimentary accumulation of talent.
Conventional thinking subscribes to the notion that acquiring megastar players and developing super teams is the quickest, unobstructed path to championship success. However, in his book, Simmons states that championship teams "won because they liked each other, knew their roles, ignored statistics and valued winning over anything else."
Simmons synopsizes the secret to championship basketball into four foundational elements: building potential champions around one superstar, surrounding the superstar with two elite sidekicks, adding superlative role players, and staying healthy.
Simmons says the team's superstar is one that "leads by example, kills himself on a daily basis, raises the competitive nature of his teammates and lifts them to a better place." These characteristics can certainly be attributed to Clippers point guard Chris Paul. Paul is a constant fixture in conversations regarding the best point guard in the NBA and his name is nudging itself between Most Valuable Player candidates LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Since Paul's arrival to the Clippers after a botched trade to the Lakers a la NBA commissioner David Stern, the team's fortunes have changed dramatically. His value transcends his current 16 points, 9.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game. Fellow players and coaching personnel are quick to sing his praises, chorusing the perception that Paul brings the team to the next level via his leadership and unflappability.
The second element in the secret of basketball addresses sidekicks whose skills and, more important, whose mindsets complement the superstar. According to Simmons, the sidekicks must be individuals who "understand their place in the team's hierarchy, don't obsess over stats, and fill in every blank they can."
In the Clippers' case, it's forward Blake Griffin and guard Jamal Crawford. If scoring in basketball is analogous to capital in economics, then there is a redistribution of wealth going in the Clippers. Griffin and Crawford, an All-Star phenom and Sixth Man Award winner, respectively, have put the interest of the team ahead of their own individual milestones, eliciting a natural sharing of the basketball. Summarily, the number of wins always trumps the number of points and rebounds.
The third element Simmons ascribes to is the addition of purposeful role players, which the Clippers have in abundance. Everybody plays a functional role that adds to the team dynamic.
Center DeAndre Jordan recognizes his position as an enforcer in the paint. Crawford's innate ability to score off the bench can be promotionally branded as "instant offense, just add water." The athletic Bledsoe spells minutes for Paul with offensive explosion and ball-hawking defense. Lamar Odom is coming into his own as a fourth-quarter stat filler, addressing the team's needs whether it's points, rebounds, assists or defense. Matt Barnes plays the role of antagonist with feisty perimeter defense, hustle and streaky shooting on offense. Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups provide veteran savvy. Each player has specific tasks that he carries out dutifully.
Last, but not insignificant, is the maintenance of health. Staying healthy is paramount for every team, but in the case of Paul, the importance of health weighs in at an even greater magnitude. Paul missed nine straight games with a bruised right kneecap, and the effects were readily apparent -- the Clippers went 3-6.
Bledsoe played admirably while supplanting Paul in the starting lineup, but the dynamic of the team quickly altered. Even when Paul returned to the lineup, Bledsoe had to readjust to the second unit.
"Because of the health, you get out of a rhythm," Coach Vinny Del Negro told the LA Times. "Eric was starting while Chris was out. The second unit changes because Jamal had to play some point because Eric was starting. We have to try to get back to the rotation of understanding the roles and the minutes and everything. We've got to work through that a little bit."
Wrapping up Simmons' four elements to the secret of basketball is the fact that the Clippers simply enjoy each other's company. By players' accounts, the team evokes a family atmosphere that most would love to be a part of.
"I haven't had this much fun since high school," Crawford said of the team.
Sometimes the best move is the one you don't make -- it appears the Clippers' brass understands the inherent bond of the team's current chemistry and opted to avoid trades at the February 21 deadline. A spate of trade rumors involving variations of Bledsoe and Jordan for the Boston Celtics' Kevin Garnett or Paul Millsap of the Utah Jazz never came to fruition.
"We feel good with our team right now," said Coach Del Negro. "Nothing has been presented to any of us that makes sense for us to do anything different right now."Whether the Clippers have truly found the secret of basketball or not is still too early to tell. On paper, it might appear like it, but their postseason performance and more notably, hoisting a Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy will determine whether the secret is out.
Ben Hernandez Jr. is a writer/contributor with Sports Out West.
- Sports & Recreation
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Bill Simmons
- Chris Paul
- Paul Millsap