LOS ANGELES — This is what it's like to be chasing chemistry.
So even with the final window of trade opportunity of this season closing Thursday, even with ongoing incongruence questions five years into their tenure together, there wasn't great temptation for the Los Angeles Clippers to send Blake Griffin away from Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan.
There remains an unequivocally justifiable possibility that the Clippers are talented enough to ascend to a level they haven't yet come close to reaching.
That's why the Clippers traded a 2019 first-round pick to add Jeff Green. He could fill a need on the wing and help in another fundamental way: He's an unabashed devotee of Doc Rivers, and clearly Rivers needs all the good vibrations he can get.
The Clippers have been doing it for some time.
Appropriately enough, the Clippers are also now chasing the Golden State Warriors, who have taken stable chemistry to such an advanced level that what they have is glorious equilibrium.
The Warriors have stolen the title of America's Team that Steve Ballmer believed was destined to be the Clippers' new operating system. But longtime underdogs lacking grit, unity and poise to win when it counts—and who go about their business joylessly and cantankerously—do not inspire.
They remain losers, no matter how many regular-season games they win.
So what can Rivers do but keep chasing chemistry? Before Griffin's major misstep of breaking his hand punching an assistant equipment manager, and despite the failed additions of Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson, the chemistry had felt better than the start of last season. That was a small something.
Rivers, who never considered trading Paul to ensure Jordan's return last summer, is all-in here in Paul's prime. There's no overnight overhaul in sight unless Kevin Durant chooses the Clippers and wants a sign-and-trade for Griffin.
Even that dream solution can't happen now, though. So Rivers is just doing the best he can.
Problem is, Rivers' best has proved to be not nearly good enough.
Do you think at this point the Boston Celtics' great chemistry was really Rivers' doing as a coach, even if he did pick that memorable "Ubuntu" refrain to signify collective success over individual accomplishment? Rivers had true professionals in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen totally committed to win at a special point in their careers. Rivers hasn't established anything close to that with Griffin, Jordan and Paul (CP is similar to KG in many ways but not in a few critical others) despite nearly three years with them.
And as a front-office guy, Rivers' vision has been clearly limited.
To begin with, he came to L.A. bullying the people in the organization who hadn't won the way he had. It is not the way, let's just say, the Warriors have gathered talent and wisdom from various corners and tried to share ideas and credit. Whether you want to praise Joe Lacob or Bob Myers or Steve Kerr or Stephen Curry or Draymond Green—or any other number of role players from executive board member Jerry West to Nick U'Ren, special assistant to the head coach —the guys with Golden State will be the first to say the other deserves it.
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Remember that the big move Rivers wanted to begin his Clippers reign was to trade Jordan for Garnett. Since then, Rivers has turned to Glen Davis, Pierce and now Green from the Boston days—with the awkward addition of his son, Austin, too.
Rivers is building relationships from the outside in, and that's just not going to change the baseline. As difficult as it is to explain why the Clippers don't have better chemistry—Paul pushes too hard? Griffin is soft? Jordan lacks maturity?—there is a missing edge that should elevate each other and the role players around them at critical times.
These folks are not bad people, and J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford have their own obvious leadership skills. The team has also done better than anyone could have expected without Griffin for much of the season, but their 105-86 victory over a Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs team Thursday was their first this season over the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder or Cavaliers. The Clippers get another chance against Golden State on Saturday at Staples Center.
When I asked Myers earlier this season if the Warriors' strong leadership and chemistry make it more feasible to take on a risky personality and remain stable, he said: "No, I think you'd be less willing. Why disrupt something that's good? Why risk adding a combustible component to it?"
Just to be clear, the Clippers' many auditions with combustible components—hot-headed Matt Barnes was swapped out for the unfocused Stephenson, who just got traded for the wildly inconsistent Green—show Rivers is searching for a new element.
He just hasn't shown the ability to see how to forge a different Ubuntu, and the more Rivers keeps reaching for past personal chemistry, the more it appears he is trying to take the easy way out.
There are so many guys you could get for a first-round pick, given how coveted they are league-wide these days, yet Rivers only went with what he knows…again?
As smooth a player as Green looks to be on certain nights, it likely won't turn out to be a wise investment to mortgage more future to rent the remaining months of his contract. The Clippers have little young talent and had already dealt away their 2017 first-round pick.
Green is a questionable fit, given the ball dominance of Paul and Griffin, is only a 34 percent career three-point shooter and has the same knock of just floating around now that he did a decade ago at Georgetown.
Rivers clearly believes he can bring out something better from Green, especially as a wing defender—and maybe if that happens, together they can bring out something better in this team.
The one hope for the Clippers is that Griffin comes back so humbled and determined from his worst moment—with Paul, Jordan and Redick so deeply entrenched in executing their roles without him—that this suddenly feels like a whole different team this spring.
But if Jordan's near-departure over the summer wasn't a strong enough catalyst to spark the right reaction, it's hard to believe Griffin's embarrassment or this trade for another of Doc's guys is going to do the trick.
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