Losing a franchise player is never an easy pill to swallow — in fact, ever acquiring a franchise player to begin with is an extremely difficult task in and of itself — because, on its face, what it implies is said superstar didn’t want you anymore. He or she had a better opportunity elsewhere, so elsewhere is where they must go. And that’s more than fair.
Chris Paul was that franchise player for the Clippers, until he was traded to the Houston Rockets, likely after informing Doc Rivers and Co. that he wasn’t going to re-sign with LA. That fact only makes the pain reside deeper. The Clippers loss is the Rockets gain.
So this is what Daryl Morey meant when he said the Rockets have something up their sleeve? Good for Houston. They’re going to try to compete against the Olympian Gods, err, I mean the Golden State Warriors. But what happened in Paul’s six seasons in Los Angeles? Where does his exit leave the Clipper legacy?
Paul gave the Clippers his prime years. The prime years of one of the best point guards the NBA has ever seen, and it paid off. The Clippers won 50-plus games in five of the six seasons that Paul ran the team — the one year they didn’t win 50 or more games, 2011-2012, was a lockout year, so we can excuse season one of the Point God Show. The Clips placed 5th once, 4th three times, and 3rd twice in the Western Conference standings, respectively. When healthy, they assembled a starting five rivaled only by the titans of the league. Lob City, as Paul’s Clippers were dubbed in their heyday, excited the Clippers fan base unlike any other era in their history. Even if the city of Los Angeles itself never followed suit.
Yet, even in their best of times, the Clippers could not resist the urge to implode. The pain was almost always self-inflicted. When their one-two punch of Paul and Blake Griffin wasn’t ravaged by ill-timed injuries, it was ex-owner Donald Sterling caught in a scandal for the decade; it was Dad Rivers trading for Son Rivers (and apparently refusing to trade his son for Carmelo Anthony); it was DeAndre Jordan feuding behind closed door with Paul; it was the Clippers executing one of the weirdest, albeit funniest, what-the-hell-is-going-on free agent pursuits by locking Jordan in his own house, unsullied by Mark Cuban; it was Paul being an overbearing leader whom Blake Griffin quickly grew weary of; it was Steve Ballmer’s amateur jerseys that look as if they were designed in MS Paint; and it was Doc Rivers conducting a series of abysmal trades and free agent signing that kept his team deadlocked these last few years.
Make no mistake, the Clippers displayed flashes of brilliance, even if their off-court antics constantly seemed to wrinkle their newly ironed reverence. Their potential was obvious, and NBA heads around the league could see it: if Doc made one or two good moves, his team would have been playing basketball into June. It’s unfortunate that Lob City never made it past the conference semifinals. They never amassed the depth of championship teams like the Spurs or the Warriors. They never obtained the fame of the purple and gold empire whose champions hang over them, literally. The Clippers were really good for many years, but they were never good enough.
The Lob City legacy is a tale of two cities. The critics will likely argue the history of the Clippers cannot be outdone by six successful seasons. To them the Clippers history brings to mind catchy phrases like “Clippers gonna Clip,” and “Ringless Clippers.” For the Clippers and their fans, they will remember these past few years as the best in their history. It is an era to look back on and aspire to in hopes that this sip of success stimulates a thirst for more.
This is one of the major reasons why the Clippers re-signed Blake Griffin to a 5-year, $173 million max contract. Losing Paul is one thing, but losing Paul and Griffin, their two best players, would have lapsed this franchise back into irrelevance. Ballmer had no intentions of sinking back down to a 20-something-win team. Can you blame him?
A large portion of the winning, fame and reputation Paul brought with him to Los Angeles now leaves with him, too. The great players are always written about in history books, but the good teams rarely are. It’s funny, the details we consider worth writing about. And while Paul’s Hall of Fame resume is largely set in stone, his former teams is not. Great legacies are earned from consistency — by repeating success over and over and over again.
The Clippers can regress to “Clippers gonna Clip,” or they can charter the new terrain opened up to them. Their legacy isn’t defined by their past; rather, it will be shaped by their future. That act has yet to be written.