Column: After losing DeAndre Jordan, Clippers have a problem ... and it’s them
This is worse than a blown 19-point lead. This is a blown season.
The Clippers did more than fumble away a three-games-to-one lead in a playoff series. They lost one-third of their future.
Just when their fans thought it couldn’t get any worse, it became relentlessly worse Friday with the report that DeAndre Jordan is leaving town for the Dallas Mavericks. That’s right, the one thing that couldn’t happen to the Clippers’ summer just happened, and yes, Steve Ballmer, this is the definition of hard core.
The Clippers had one task, and they botched it. They had one test, and they flunked it. They had one real question mark, and it just got crushed by a hostile exclamation point.
The Big Three is now the Not-Quite-So-Big Two. The defense is now offensive. The rebounding might not be able to rebound. Lob City just lost one of its biggest oops. The chances of championship contention next season have unofficially disappeared.
Gone are nightly totals of a dozen points, 15 rebounds and two blocks. Gone is a third-place finisher for NBA defensive player of the year. Sure, also gone is one of the worst free-throw shooters in league history, but that now seems petty in relation to the loss of nearly seven feet of Clippers soul.
When Jordan was on the court last season, the Clippers outscored opponents by 11.8 points. When Jordan was off the court, they were outscored by 3.6 points. Case closed.
Yet now he’s gone, and for what? Why would DeAndre Jordan go to a situation that seems clearly inferior?
He is taking less money, even with the Texas-sized tax break — four years at $80 million versus the Clippers’ offer of five years at $108 million. He is playing with lesser players — the Mavericks have nobody to compare to Chris Paul or Blake Griffin.
Even if he is going back to his home state -- Jordan is from the Houston area -- he is essentially giving up a chance at an NBA championship, moving 1,400 miles to mire himself in mediocrity.
One could easily criticize Jordan’s decision, and he will certainly hear about it when the Mavericks come to Staples Center next winter. But, really, it’s hard to seriously rip a 26-year-old guy who is simply utilizing the earned right to dictate his NBA future.
The real question is not what is wrong with DeAndre Jordan, but what is wrong with the Clippers?
How could the Clippers fail to create the sort of environment where one of their stars wouldn’t want to stay with a team that just added Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson and was prepared to embark on its most serious title chase? How could Jordan be so turned off that he would tap out of a journey that had led him, Paul and Griffin on a memorable four-year postseason trek that supposedly bonded them in determination to finish the job?
Something’s broken inside this team and this organization. That is the only explanation for any of this. Something broken led to this spring’s meltdown against Houston and now has essentially run a major asset out of town. During a week when all the talk around town has involved Lakers dysfunction, everybody ignored the fact that across the Staples Center hallway, things might be even be worse.
There are suspects everywhere. The only one who is clearly blameless is owner Ballmer, who hasn’t even been here a year, and during that time has given the team everything it needs. Ballmer must now be wondering what exactly he inherited, and how he can fix it.
The questions start with Doc Rivers. He’s the big loser here. When he arrived two years ago with his championship ring, he was the magic man, remember? Players loved him. Players put down their egos and fought for him. A year ago, Rivers was able to convince his team to take the court amid one of the most racially charged episodes in league history. Yet today, he can’t even convince one of his players to take an extra $20 million and stay in a Clippers uniform.
As Jordan progressed from a second-round project to a budding star, he needed to feel he was a bigger part of the Clippers culture, and apparently he never did. Even with Rivers constantly promoting him for defensive player of the year and publicly complimenting him for his effort, Jordan never felt he was trusted to play a bigger role. Jordan’s offensive skills are limited, as the Mavericks will discover, but perhaps Rivers could have given him more post opportunities.
This is just the latest in a string of Rivers struggles as the basketball personnel boss, and maybe that also affected Jordan’s decision. With Griffin just two years from free agency, maybe Jordan didn’t trust that Rivers could build a championship team without the All-Star power forward. Or maybe he thought Rivers had lost control of a locker room that had turned uncomfortable.
This brings up Chris Paul . He takes the other big hit here. The tough guy reportedly had a strained relationship with the more laid-back Jordan. It might have helped if Paul had backed off during some of this season’s obvious court conflict that included shouts and stares, but he couldn’t. It also might have helped if Paul had attended this week’s pitch meeting for Jordan, but he was in the Bahamas. Turns out, their star point guard couldn’t give the Clippers the one assist they desperately needed.
At least when the Lakers broke up over egos a decade ago, they had the good timing to do it after winning three championships.
So what happens now? The Clippers still have two of the top 10 players in the NBA. They still have a potential star in Stephenson. They still have the charismatic Rivers to convince everyone that everything is going to be just fine.
But they also have a Staples Center full of ticket holders who are being charged championship prices, yet have just watched their best and quickest chance for that championship walk out the door.
Again, the real question is not what is wrong with DeAndre Jordan, but what is wrong with the Clippers.
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