Can VDN lead this team through to respectability?
Those of you old enough to remember the silly little sitcom with that title from the '80s where Leonardo DiCaprio got his start can't help but giggle at the memory. It had a recurring character called "Boner" after all. Seriously, Boner.
Where Growing Pains was an '80s sitcom, its a current predicament for the Los Angeles Clippers. The exciting thing for everyone who follows the team is that it means the team is growing!
You can't having growing pains, without first adding growth.
Every NBA team goes through a process to respectability. This is a gross over-generalization, but the process typically follows these steps, pain, growth, growing pains, respectability.
Pain is where the once-proud Detroit Pistons find themselves right now. Other residents include the Timberwolves and last year, the New Jersey Nets.
Pain is where losses come easier and quicker than wins, and the franchise is struggling for an identity.
In some circles, another name for the pain step is "Clipper-ville".
Growth is where you begin to see light at the end of the tunnel. Teams like the 2010-2011 Nets, and surprisingly, the Golden State Warriors, find themselves here. Growth doesn't mean wins, as a matter of fact, it normally means more losses then victories.
The growth step is nice for a team, however, because they can sense it. The once-moody locker room is more relaxed, wins are sprinkled in with the losses, and there is hope.
It doesn't last long, however, because growth always brings pain. Its just the way it is.
Growing pains is the brick to the face, the cold water dumped on you in the nice warm shower. Every team has its growing pains; there are no exceptions.
The Lakers lost to the Suns and Celtics, the MJ-led Bulls were manhandled by the Pistons. The Knicks of that same era never could get past the Bulls.
For some, the pain is too much to overcome. Champions endure it.
The process is so dynamic and fragile that some teams find themselves going through all four steps in a single season. Take the OKC Thunder of 2009-2010.
The year before they finished a pathetic 23-59. They were entrenched in pain. The 2009-2010 season started with hope, like a new season does for most teams. Two wins out of the gate and a record above .500 at the mid-season mark showed growth.
For every step forward however, they took a step back. They were entrenched at or just above .500. Not counting October, where they only played two games, their monthly records show a team that was going through growing pains.
- November - 7 wins, 8 losses
- December - 9 wins, 6 losses
- January - 8 wins, 7 losses
They were good, but hadn't yet broken through to respectability. That happened in February. Funny what a nine-game winning streak will do for you!
- February - 8 wins, 2 losses (the nine game streak began in January)
- March - 11 wins, 5 losses
Welcome to respectability. The Los Angeles Lakers certainly hated to see you arrive.
So, why do the 1-6 Clippers merit a place in the "growing pains" category? Well, that step is different for different teams.
Remember the kid in the seventh grade who showed up with a mustache or the girl who suddenly looked like a girl? Different people, different processes. Different teams, different steps.
The Clippers have spent so much time in the pain category that common law has set in to the point they own it. The Timberwolves pay rent to the Clippers.
They have grown before, most recently in 2006. The growing pains for that team were administered by the Phoenix Suns. The team, the franchise, has yet to recover from that punch in the gut.
Only champions recover, remember?
This year's Clippers experienced pain last year. Growth came in each game in the early season. Rarely have a Clipper losses been so positively received.
Everyone saw the potential in Blake Griffin. Eric Gordon's smooth jumper was making it on SportsCenter. Sure, the team was losing, but they showed... something. Growth.
Now, comes the pain.
It started in Utah. There is no greater pain in sports than to snag defeat from the hands of a victory.
Against the Jazz, in a game that would have earned the team a notch up in the respectability scale, they lost a game they should have won. That, is the most basic definition of sports growing pains.
"Our guys were fighting all game,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “From that standpoint, we grew. But it still hurts to lose and we had a good opportunity tonight that we weren’t able to capitalize on.”
Growth = pain.
Now comes the tough part. Will the team endure through the pain, or settle in? The toughest part of getting in shape isn't signing up at the gym, its waking up at 5 a.m. and getting there. Will these Clippers wake up and jump on the Stairmaster?
If so, respectability awaits.