Column

Clippers are going all in on this season, regardless of what anyone else in NBA thinks

The Clippers might be out of their minds, out of their league, and out of any reasonable chance at playing deep into the spring.

But they're all in.

They're stuck in fourth place in a Western Conference dominated by two teams that could finish with two of the best records in NBA history. Their most talented player hasn't played in two months. Their franchise has never advanced past the postseason's second round.

Yet with most NBA teams spending Thursday's trade deadline stuck in neutral while either conceding the title to the Golden State Warriors or waiting for this summer's flow of free-agent money, the Clippers were acting with all the bluster of Steve Ballmer and swagger of Doc Rivers.

They're all in, and it's all good.

They could have traded the distressed asset that is Blake Griffin. They wouldn't.

They could have hoarded a future draft pick while giving up on the idea of finally acquiring a small forward. They didn't.

The Clippers traded Lance Stephenson and a lottery-protected first-round draft pick in 2019 for lanky Memphis forward Jeff Green, and while first-rounders are gold and Green has an expiring contract, does either fact matter right now?

Forget 2019. Forget this summer. Forget that the national media ripped this trade and flunked the Clippers for mortgaging a chunk of their future for a small slice of a championship hope. The Clippers will take that slice. The Clippers will chase that hope.

"We wanted to stay in the argument," Rivers said of the Western Conference chase, and there is increasingly little argument that they are there now.

The Clippers believe against all reasonable predictions that they have a chance to win it now, and those thousands of screaming fans at Staples Center on Thursday night show they are not alone.

Without Griffin, the Clippers hustled to a 105-86 victory over a San Antonio Spurs team without Kawhi Leonard or Manu Ginobli. The Spurs began the night 10 games ahead of the Clippers in the standings, and even depleted they can win games like this one. But not on this night, not with the Clippers' newfound defense and rebounding and Chris Paul's scoring 15 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter.

The Clippers led the Spurs by as many as 20, watched them close it to five points early in the fourth, but then put it away with Paul's shooting and three thundering ally-oop dunks by DeAndre Jordan that led Ballmer to leap out of his baseline seat and do something that frighteningly resembled the Nae Nae dance.

The Clippers are 19-5 without Griffin, and have found a defensive and ball-sharing rhythm that should remain strong when the humbled superstar returns in several weeks.

They are the last team to defeat both the Warriors and Spurs in the postseason. They have won big games in both places. They not only believe they still have a championship shot, they also believe it could be one of their two remaining championship shots with Paul and Griffin free to walk in the summer in 2017. This group's title window is closing fast, so who can blame them for wanting to grab at every last breeze while they can?

"We're always going all in," said Rivers of the trade. "I don't know if it's that dramatic. We just thought it made us better."

Enter Green, who has been the definition of mediocre in parts of two seasons with Memphis, but who shined under Rivers in Boston in 2012-2013, shooting 47%, including 39% from beyond the arc. He doesn't have to be great, he just has to be solid in stretches, a guy who can hit a few big shots and fit into the system like Rivers' failed acquisitions Josh Smith and Stephenson could not.

"I envision using him in a lot of ways," River said of the 6-foot-9 Green. "I really wanted more length, you look at the teams we need to beat, we need to get longer and more athletic and increase our shooting. With Jeff we did all three of those things."

The only really weird thing the Clippers did all night had nothing to do with their trade, but their tempest. They inexplicably tweeted a photo of Blake Griffin shaking hands with Matias Testi, the assistant equipment manager who Griffin recently punched, resulting in a broken hand and four-game suspension. The tweet was accompanied by the hashtag #Family, but should have instead included the hashtag #WhyAdvertiseIdiocy.

Yes, this was Griffin's and Testi's first return to the sidelines since the punch, but Griffin has already publicly apologized, and Testi didn't show up in the locker room during the pregame media availability, so the furor was basically finished until the Clippers brought it back up.

While the two men were truly friends, the handshake seems staged, the hashtag was forced, and the Internet immediately rained down its ridicule.

The Clippers don't need any more theatrics. With 28 games remaining, both on the court and in the front office, they have shown they are all about real hope, and they're all about it right now.

Follow Bill Plaschke on Twitter: @billplaschke

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 19, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "The Clippers are going for it all right now, no matter what anyone thinks" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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