L.A. Clippers Success in 2012-13 Is Quickly Sweeping Away Decades of Futility

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 18, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 22:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers reacts with Chris Paul #3 after a Clipper three pointer during the game against the New Orleans Hornets at Staples Center on April 22, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The myriad of success enjoyed by the 2012-13 Los Angeles Clippers is unlike anything the franchise has ever experienced.

The organization made its NBA debut in 1970-71 as the Buffalo Braves, then relocated to San Diego for the 1978-79 season (where they took on the Clippers moniker). They finally landed in Los Angeles for the 1984-85 season.

To say that this franchise has struggled is like saying that they might have reached when they made Michael Olowokandi the first overall pick of the 1998 draft. 

They haven't just been bad, they've been Clippers bad.

They have fewer winning seasons (eight if you count this year) than those with a sub-.300 winning percentage (13).

Needless to say, they are one of 13 organizations to have never won an NBA title. They have nary an appearance in the NBA Finals or even in the Conference Finals.

But their string of misfortunes appeared to be nearing its end just one year ago. After commissioner David Stern vetoed the Los Angeles Lakers trade to acquire then-New Orleans Hornets star Chris Paul, the Clippers swooped in with their own offer and landed the perennial All-Star.

It was the kind of acquisition that was too unfathomable for even a Hollywood scriptwriter.

The Clippers hadn't just struggled as a team over the years, they'd been nearly bereft of superstar talent. The few that did enter their atmosphere were nothing more than shooting stars, there one minute and gone the next.

This perhaps is made no clearer than by the mention of the franchise's all-time leader in points scored—Randy Smith (who played with Buffalo and San Diego from 1971-79). Despite playing just eight seasons with the franchise, Smith scored over 3,000 points more than the next player on their career scoring leaderboard (Bob McAdoo).

But in Paul, here arrived some hope for a franchise that had forgotten what the word meant.

With Paul and budding superstar Blake Griffin leading the way, the Clippers surged to a 40-26 record in the strike-shortened season of 2011-12. Their winning percentage of .606 was a new franchise best.

With only a second-round playoff appearance to show for their efforts, though, the Clippers attacked the 2012 free-agent market determined to challenge the Lakers as the best team L.A. They added proven veteran talent in Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Lamar Odom. 

Through the first quarter of the 2012-13 season, they aren't simply the best team in the city, they're one of the best teams in the entire league.

They are in the midst of a 10-game winning streak, a Clippers first.

They hold the second-best record in the Western Conference (18-6) and the second-best scoring differential in the NBA (plus-8.55).

These are no longer the Clippers (or Braves) that your grandfather, father or even older brothers remember. This is now an NBA force to be reckoned with.

And this resurgence starts and stops with their new MVP-caliber leader, Paul.

He's third on the team in scoring with 16 points per game, while shooting 47.3 percent from the field. He ranks second in the NBA in assists per game (9.2) and third among all point guards with a 4.15-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

So it becomes imperative for this organization and owner Donald Sterling to do what they have historically failed to—retain their superstar talent.

Paul is slated to hit the free-agent market in 2013 after declining a three-year, $60 million extension over the 2012 summer. His decision to forgo the contract offer wasn't a declarative move away from the organization, though, just one that will continue to be the norm under the league's latest collective bargaining agreement.

But that doesn't mean that the Clippers have to wait until year's end to start their negotiations. The best bargaining chip that they can offer Paul is a postseason stay unlike any experienced by this franchise or their point guard.

This team has a chance to make this season more special than any of their previous 42 years in the league.

But for a franchise still feeling the effects of depressing decade after depressing decade, L.A. must do everything in their power to keep their newest and brightest star from shooting out of their grasp.