The endless, hopeless quest of the Clippers

Jan. 14, 2010, 12:02 a.m.

Prominent, organized, popular, glorious, fortunate, sane. What do these words have in common?

None of them have ever been used to describe the Los Angeles Clippers.

For the Staples Center’s second-favorite tenant, life has been all but rainbows and butterflies. As an organization, the Clips have been marred by bad luck and bad management, dismal coaching and dismal attendance, freak injuries and freak personalities – and Michael Olowokandi. Just today, news broke that the 2009 No. 1 overall pick and (possible) future phenom, Blake Griffin – the Clippers alleged remedy to a generation of failure – will miss the entire season due to a lingering knee injury.

The loss of Griffin is a tremendous emotional blow to the few remaining soldiers of Clippers nation. He was the now. He was the future. Now, he’s following the lead Portland’s Greg Oden, sitting for his entire rookie season with the infamous always-treatable-but-never-fully-repairable knee injury.
It’s not that the 17-19 Clippers are deprived of talent. On the contrary, the team is shockingly deep with skilled players. Baron Davis (who came over in 2008 with the promise of former Clipper Elton Brand that they would build a dynasty, only to have Brand chunk up the deuce and peace to Philadelphia) is still one of the best point guards of the new millennium. Combo guard Eric Gordon, baby fat and all, is a star in the making. Hell, even Chris Kaman, who looks like he was plucked straight from a Geico commercial, is a top-15 center.
One of the major problems in recent years, as showcased by Mr. Griffin, is that the Staples Center, when adorned in red and white, is where limbs come to die. Shaun Livingston, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2007 draft, suffered a disturbingly gruesome knee injury and never returned to form. The aforementioned Brand, who had displayed the skills and athleticism of an elite power forward, missed nearly the entire 2007-08 season. Even Marcus Camby, the former UMass star and paint patroller, could only play in 62 games last year.
As emasculating as this is to admit, I really like the Clippers. It’s more than just a love for the underdog; I enjoy car crashes. This team just does everything it possibly can to prevent success. And although this is one of the most injury-plagued franchises in the history of professional sports, it would be ignorant to place the blame solely on the shoulders – or should I say knees – of a few individual players.
Since its founding in 1970, the Clippers organization has had six winning seasons. Six. Just to put this into perspective, since 1970, their roommates, the Los Angeles Lakers, have had five losing seasons. Yeah I get it, the Lakers had Kareem, Magic, Kobe and Shaq, while the Clippers had Darius Miles, Quentin Richardson, Zach Randolph and the exoskeleton of Olowokandi. Honestly, without Bill Simmons, the media coverage of the Clippers would be virtually extinct and nobody would notice or care. My crystal ball is predicting a brighter decade for the Kansas City Royals than for L.A.’s ugly child.

Why? For one, the Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, is a racist billionaire who spends more time choosing which lawyers to hire in settling housing discrimination lawsuits than choosing which coaches to hire in solving horrific defensive inefficiency. You think this is a joke, until you realize that he had to fork over five million dollars to minority plaintiffs whom he allegedly denied housing in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. What’s more, he was sued by former employee Elgin Baylor for racial discrimination when Sterling refused to raise his relatively low salary of $335,000. It’s Elgin freaking Baylor; you can’t badmouth the legend, let alone display your bigotry. Karma is a bitch, isn’t it?

His most notorious hire, current head coach and general manager Mike Dunleavy Sr., seems on the surface to be moderately successful. He’s currently the third longest tenured coach in the NBA, in the middle of his seventh season at the helm and trails only legendary coaches Jerry Sloan and Greg Poppovich on that list.

But in traditional Clips fashion, a closer look reveals that he’s had as much success at being head coach as Jersey Shore’s Snooki has had avoiding black eyes.

Dunleavy has recorded one winning season in his relatively lengthy reign and he’s missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons. As GM, he’s been responsible for several skeptical moves. From 2007 to 2009, he won a combined 42 games. You can give the dude two seasons and he can barely eclipse a single-season .500 record of 41 victories!

The future of this franchise is no less than dire. With Sterling driving the management bus and Dunleavy sitting shotgun, it’s hard to be optimistic. Winning isn’t exactly commonplace and instead of fixing what’s broken the organization seems more content playing down to its hilariously awful reputation. Every single year for as long as I remember – except for possibly the playoff anomaly of the 2005-06 season – there has been talk of Dunleavy’s axing. But it just won’t happen. There is no way Sterling and Dunleavy are completely oblivious to how bad their team sucks, but how many years do the terrible two really need to figure things out?

In the immediate future, there’s no clear solution. The Clippers are well on their way to another appearance in the lottery and are in perfect shape to royally blow a valuable pick on draft day. But hell, I have faith. Every team has to win at one point or another, right?

On second thought, better hope LeBron goes Hollywood.

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