LA Clippers: Championship or Bust

The Los Angeles Clippers have been an NBA enigma for the better part of this decade.  Once the laughingstock of the league, LA’s second sons have morphed into a viable title contender.  But, and it’s a big but, instead of faltering in the regular season, the team has now taken to faltering in the playoffs.  The Clippers are nearly at a crossroads as a franchise.  They’ve kept their core together in a time of frequent star movement.  But when do they say enough is enough.  When does the franchise hit the reset button?  I believe that this year is that final stand.  Their championship window is closing and the status quo is no longer an option.  Championship or bust.

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While on Team USA duty, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said that an Olympic gold medal was more of a crowning achievement than an NBA championship.  The media subsequently eviscerated Jordan for the statement.  It was deemed the sentiment of a “typical Clipper.”  Instead of being viewed as patriotic, Jordan was deemed a loser for shortchanging the impact of an NBA title.  But this isn’t anything new for the Los Angeles Clippers, and that is why a change should be necessary.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin may go down as one of the most productive combos of our generation.  The point guard sheriff and his destructive dunking deputy made Lob City a thing.  But somehow, the All-Star duo have never made it past the second round of the playoffs.  It is mind boggling to think what could have happened to other tandems in history if they suffered a similar fate.  Would Stockton and Malone stayed true if they never reached a Western final?  Would the Shaq/Kobe dynamic imploded sooner?

The Clippers transformed nearly overnight from a franchise of have-nots to definitely haves.  That is even more the case with new owner Steve Ballmer, who is essentially Mark Cuban with more money to burn.  But unlike his Dallas counterpart, Ballmer’s Clippers haven’t made any considerable splashes in the market.  You know, outside of ripping Jordan back underneath Dallas’ nose last summer.  While every team is looking to add that one piece to put them over the top, the Clippers seem fine with what they have.  It isn’t for lack of trying, but there comes a time where the word try means nothing unless you eventually DO.

During his time in Boston, Doc Rivers took a Celtics team that was thrown together in a summer and made them champions.  He also took that team to two more Conference Finals and another NBA Finals.  So why hasn’t he had a similar run in Los Angeles?  He arguably has a better team at the Staples Center.  He has a much better relationship with management.

People will point to the fact that the Western Conference is so stacked.  That may be true, but other than the Spurs, it hasn’t been the same top dogs for any lengthy period of time in the NBA’s dominant hemisphere.  In the new millennium we’ve seen nearly the entirety of the conference’s teams at one point or another make the Conference Finals.  In fact, only the teams that Chris Paul has played for, the Hornets/Pelicans and the Clippers, haven’t.

So why are the Clippers content with maddening mediocrity?  Maybe it is because they fear a reversion back to what they were before CP3 arrived.  They would rather be mildly relevant than not relevant at all.  It is a sad stance to have.  However, said stance is understandable given the franchise’s bumbling resume beforehand.  But this year has to be that line in the sand.  To paraphrase a less than poignant quote “Crap or get off the pot.”

Blake Griffin has been the subject of trade rumors all summer.  Their marquee free agent transaction was the resigning of aging sixth man Jamal CrawfordPaul Pierce is trudging back for his 19th NBA campaign.  Chris Paul can opt out after this season.  The 2016-17 season could very well be their last year as a unit.  And well it should be.

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There comes a time for every franchise to start anew.  This doesn’t mean the Clippers should completely blow it up.  This does mean that instead of embracing stability, they inject a bit of chaos into the mix.  Championship or bust.  Whatever bust means is entirely up to the Clippers.  But if they are ever going to be more than the co-tenants of the Lakers palace, that ultimatum is necessary.