For most of their first 33 years of existence, the Los Angeles Clippers were the laughingstock of the NBA. They weren’t an actual basketball franchise, instead they were defined by Danny Manning’s knees, Danny Ferry’s opting for Italy instead of LA, Michael Olowokandi’s punchline of a career and Donald Sterling’s racism. On Wednesday morning, the Clippers became that laughingstock once again.
For 33 years, the Clippers were a joke, and then Chris Paul showed up on their doorstep. After then-commissioner David Stern inexplicably nixed a trade that would have sent Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers, he approved a deal to send him to LA’s other franchise. Since December 8, 2011, the Clippers have been relevant. While they never even reached the Western Conference Finals, opposing teams had to account for Paul and his cohorts. Now that’s over, as the 32-year-old future Hall of Famer engineered his exit from Lob City to join James Harden with the Houston Rockets.
Over the past five seasons, the Clippers were the best basketball team in Los Angeles. The Lakers wallowed in Kobe Bryant’s final few seasons and began a slow rebuild, leaving an opportunity for Paul and company to seize fans and elevate the franchise. In six years with the Clippers, Paul made an All-NBA team each season. He was also All-NBA Defensive First Team five times and Second Team once. With Bryant’s career winding down, he was the best player in Los Angeles, and yet he couldn’t get the Clippers to the promised land.
While the Clippers are undoubtedly in a better place than they were before the nine-time All-Star arrived, without him the appeal the team once had is completely gone. And after six years with Chris freaking Paul, the Clippers didn’t make a dent in the Purple and Gold’s dominance of the LA market. Now, with Magic Johnson and a gaggle of young, talented players, the Lakers again look like a team the city can believe in. With Paul the Clippers looked stagnant, without him they are lost.
The fact that Paul wanted out does not bode well for the future of the franchise. With Blake Griffin also set to hit free agency it appears the window has closed on the Clippers, who are now back to being…well, the Clippers. Without Paul the team has zero appeal, enthusiastic owner Steve Ballmer will have virtually no good options available.
For a brief moment the Clippers became a really attractive team. With Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan they formed the Lob City trio that was really entertaining. The problem? Entertaining does not necessarily equal successful, and drama began to define things in Clipperland.
Paul was easily the NBA’s best point guard during his six seasons in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the Clippers could never build him a team capable of even getting within shouting distance of a title. Rumors of infighting between Paul, Griffin and Jordan surfaced at times, and we now know the point guard couldn’t stand head coach Doc Rivers. The Clippers had the talent to be special but in the end it has collapsed in spectacular fashion.
In exchange for Paul, the Clippers acquired Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Olivia Harlan’s fiancee and four spare parts. Beverley is a good defensive guard without a ton of upside, Williams is a nice bench scorer with an expiring contract and Mr. Harlan is…alright, I guess? That’s not much of a return for the greatest player in franchise history. In fact, you could say losing Paul for virtually nothing is vintage Clippers.
While I do feel badly for the franchise’s fans, it’s oddly fitting how this saga played out. The Clippers were given Paul, and relevance, on a platter. Now both of those things have been cruelly ripped away.