J.J. Redick’s breakfast was on the runny side.
Not even 12 hours after he had departed a funereal locker room, the Clippers shooting guard found himself weeping again Friday morning over the loss of more than a basketball season.
“It’s like you wait your whole life to play with a group of guys like that and you hope that’s the group that you end up winning with and when it doesn’t happen, it’s devastating,” a stone-faced Redick said at the Clippers’ training facility.
There was so much for the Clippers to mourn, but no autopsy was necessary.
Their season expired in large part because of emotional trauma wrought by the controversy involving owner Donald Sterling and the tumult the Clippers created with a spectacular collapse in the final minute of Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals. And, yes, there’s also no discounting that they’re still not on par with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
No matter how much they tried to soothe each other with team-wide text messages and the galvanizing presence of Coach Doc Rivers, the Clippers were never going to be the same after Sterling’s disparaging remarks about blacks from an audio recording released in the midst of their first-round series against Golden State.
“The reality is, when everything first happened, I was tired but I couldn’t go to sleep,” guard Jamal Crawford admitted Friday. “It was just so many different things. You have so many texts and emails and people saying this and everybody having an opinion, especially with social media.”
The Clippers somehow tidied up the clutter enough to beat the Warriors in seven games, then stormed back from 16 points down in the fourth quarter of Game 4 against the Thunder to tie that series at two games apiece.
Next came the 49.2 seconds in Game 5 that will linger all summer, if not the rest of their lives.
Leading by seven points, the Clippers turned the ball over twice, missed a shot, fouled a three-point shooter and came out on the wrong end of a controversial call and replay review by officials on the way to a crushing one-point defeat.
They never fully recovered two days later, an energetic early burst offset by a flat second half during a season-ending 104-98 loss in Game 6.
On the plus side, the Clippers should return largely intact next season, provided Rivers doesn’t bolt and his players don’t boycott over the potentially unresolved Sterling situation. Seven of the team’s top eight scorers are under contract for the 2014-15 season, including mainstays Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Matt Barnes, Redick and Crawford.
Reserves Danny Granger, Glen Davis and Darren Collison have player options for next season and the team holds an option on backup guard Willie Green.
“Sometimes, it’s just experience and time,” Crawford said. “We have pretty much everything we need, especially if we can keep 80%, 90% of the team together.”
Griffin acknowledged the need for another big man to complement the defensive-oriented Jordan but said more than anything the Clippers could use more time together. Their core of Paul, Griffin and Jordan has played together three seasons, half of the six seasons Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been teammates and only a fraction of the 12 seasons San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have been together.
“The positive of this season is that hopefully next year when we come back and most of that roster is still intact,” Griffin said, “we have that building block and we have that firm idea and firm understanding of who we are as a team and what we want to accomplish.”
That would be a first NBA title, though the Clippers have not even reached the conference finals since the franchise began playing as the Buffalo Braves in 1970. Griffin has become painfully accustomed to his seasons ending in defeat.
“Every time I lose, every time we lose as a team, it’s like I figure out how not to do it, so I don’t want to keep this up,” Griffin said, “but it is a necessary adversity you have to go through as a player to be able to get where you want. I’ve heard guys say that it makes it that much sweeter when you do get to the top.”