I’m sure you know by now about the wonder that is Blake Griffin. He has Clipper Nation (who ever knew one existed?) ranting and raving about his high-flying acrobatics. He has people chattering foreign words and phrases like “The Clippers are really fun to watch!” and “The Clippers could make the playoffs!”
Plain and simple, he puts butts in seats at the Staples Center when the gold and purple are not playing. The best thing about Blake Griffin is the opportunity he has to turn a tortured franchise around.
It’s not a secret that the Clippers have been the laughing stock of the NBA for almost as long as the league has existed. Since the Clippers moved to Los Angeles in 1984-85, they have made the playoffs four times, winning one series in 2005-06. They have had two measly seasons where they’ve had a winning record (1991-92, 2005-06). They also hold one of the worst records in NBA history at 12-70 in the 1986-87 season. So in 26 seasons, the franchise has moved past the first round once. Even their time in San Diego from 1978-84 was terrible, with only one winning season in six years.
To put those numbers in perspective, let’s take a look at the team they share Staples with. In the 62-year history of the Lakers, they’ve missed the playoffs only five times and won 16 championships.
It’s pretty much the complete opposite for the Clippers. Another stunning anecdote is the fact that the Clippers have never won more than 47 games under the Clipper moniker. Dating back to their Buffalo Braves days from 1970-78, even when they made the playoffs in three consecutive years, the most they ever won was 49.
The Clippers have been cursed with what seems to be tremendous bad luck. They’ve only had a handful of significant players throughout their 40-year existence including three hall of famers who significantly contributed to the franchise in Adrian Dantlely, Bob McAdoo, and Bill Walton. Walton came to the team while they were in San Diego in 1979, just two years removed from a championship with the Trail Blazers, but foot injuries kept him off the court for 68 games. World B. Free made a dent while with the team in averaging 30 points per game in the 1979-80 season, which was good for second in the league behind George Gervin.
Outside of the aforementioned players, not many noteworthy players came through. There was the short stint Dominique Wilkins had near the tail end of his career in 1994. Other mentionables include Danny Manning, Ron Harper, Danny Ferry, Corey Maggette, Cuttino Mobley, Elton Brand, Andre Miller, and Sam Cassell. These were all role players, drifters and nomads at best. They would never stay long. When Eric Piatkowski is one of your longest-tenured players in franchise history, you know there is a profound problem.
Their draft and transaction luck hasn’t been much better than their on-court fortune. The list is extensive, but a few really stick out. There’s Michael Olawokandi’s promise but disastrous end in the NBA, letting Lamar Odom and Elton Brand walk away in free agency in separate time frames, drafting the athletic but oft-injured Darius Miles. The list goes on.
One of the biggest mistakes of the franchise was keeping Mike Dunleavy Sr. around for as long as he was. Dunleavy Sr. coached the Clippers from 2003-10. It became a foregone conclusion every year that the Clippers would under-perform or be hit with devastating injuries, subsequently missing the playoffs badly. The 2005-06 season, where they made the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, turned out to be an aberration. They kept him around anyway. He finished with an abysmal 215-326 record in his tenure with the Clippers before he resigned midway through the 2010 season.
You can attribute the Clippers’ fortunes to just bad luck, or it can be put on the shoulders of one of the worst owners ever in professional sports. That man is Donald Sterling.
Sterling took over the team in 1981. Since then, he has contributed greatly to the downward spiral the Clippers have experienced. It took Dunleavy’s resignation to finally get him out of coaching the team. He let Elton Brand leave for greener pastures, and most recently he was allegedly heckling his own player in Baron Davis. He would say, “Why are you in the game?” and “Why did you take that shot? You are out of shape!” This was back when the Clippers were 5-20 this season.
Despite all of the rough times they’ve had to endure, the Clippers have a very bright future. Perhaps the brightest future they’ve had in their history. They have a competent coach in Vinny Del Negro, an athletic and talented young roster, and a bona-fide superstar in just his first year in the league.
Blake Griffin already has his own highlight reel halfway through his first season in the league. He is one of six players in the league this year averaging a double-double (22.6 PPG, 12.8 RPG). He is one of the four out of six that are big men. He recently had a streak of 27 straight games with a double-double end, but only by two rebounds and he’s a rookie.
He was absolutely devastated when he went down in the preseason last year with a knee injury that kept him out the entire year. He fought back and is a unanimous rookie of the year pick this season, again, only halfway through the season. Mike Wilbon of Pardon the Interruption, recently said Griffin is the best and most popular Clipper of all time already. I think he’s right. Heck, you could make the case that he is one of the best players in the NBA. He is without a doubt an All-Star, despite his team being 10 games under .500.
Yet, with a 16-26 record, the Clippers are still in the playoff hunt. Granted, they have to leapfrog five teams to get there, but still. When you consider they started the season 5-21 and have gone 11-5 since, they have a shot. Their upcoming 11-game road trip will be a crucial stretch.
Blake Griffin has even made Baron Davis want to play basketball. Before Griffin, Davis looked apathetic and slow, but now that he has an alley-oop buddy, he’s playing much better. Griffin’s energy and effort will not allow Davis to slack off.
Another bright spot for the Clippers is Eric Gordon. He is currently averaging 24 points per game as well as 4.6 assists, up a whole seven points from his previous two year averages. Throw in the young core of Eric Bledsoe, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chris Kaman, and DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers have a promising group to build around and develop.
Could it be possible that the Clippers could become the Oklahoma City Thunder in a couple of years? It sure looks like it, assuming Sterling doesn’t do something stupid to blow up the roster like trade away Kaman for a cupcake.
The Clippers are a fun team to watch. They have a potent one-two punch in Griffin and Gordon. Griffin is a guy that you have to see to believe. They are still very raw as a group, but with some time their individual skill sets will mesh together.
I, for one, will be rooting for this team’s future success in light of all the past woes they've endured. You can’t help but love a chance to go to the Blake show.
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