The Bleeding Clippers

Word that Pat Beverley was out for the year because of microfracture surgery would have been major news, despite the hit in the gut, had it not been overshadowed by something far greater and more specific. It was the revelation that the Clippers waived the physical of Beverley before trading for him,  a physical that may have shed some clues on the status of Beverley’s knee. Add one more layer of depression to a team very familiar with peeling back scar tissue only to reveal more scars. Suddenly, the personnel looks fragile without Chris Paul to orchestrate them into exceptionalism. And the front office looks lazy.

What is left of Lob City is a city but no lobs. DeAndre Jordan looks like what he always was if no one tossed him easy dunks: one dimensional, a rebounder and nothing much else. You can say the same thing about Blake Griffin, as far as the Chris Paul effect. Paul made him an All-Star.

Love or hate Chris and all his dribbling and maniacal maneuvering and tough love and anger at losing. He does what only star players can do. He makes his teammates better than they are. When he leaves, those players revert to form. And he continues on, the star that he is.

Before Wednesday night, the Clippers had lost 9 in a row. The won a  game against 3 win Atlanta. In the 9 games they lost, they gave up 120 points twice, 118 points once, 113 points and 111 points. 6 out of the 9 losses, they had 20 assists or less. Twice, against OKC and Philly, fouling became an addiction and the Thunder and 76ers went to the free throw line 75 times.

Last season. the Clippers were 14-3.

This year, they are 6-11. It’s been a month since they won back to back games.

Here’s more evidence if you are still not a believer in the greatness of Chris Paul. Blake Griffin is having his worst shooting year of his career because Chris Paul isn’t giving him shots where he is the most effective. Griffin is 6-10 and shooting like a guard. In fact, rookie De’Aaron Fox and Griffin have the same percentage, 41%. Griffin has decided he is a three point shooter and is posting his second best average of his career, 35%. But for the first time since he donned a pro jersey, he isn’t making more than 50% of his two point shots. His offensive rebounds are a career low. This is only the second year he is under 8 rebounds a game. No Chris Paul means he has to be a point forward and his assists are up but not career high up. He is scoring what he normally scores but it doesn’t matter when his defense is the worst it has ever been and his offensive rating is the worst it has ever been.

How is Chris Paul gone and Blake Griffin’s usage rate the same as when Chris Paul was here?

Blake’s midrange shots and long twos are a career low. His  Real Plus-Minus has devolved.

The Chris Effect long two point shots Real Plus-Minus Rank (F)
Blake Griffin 2016-17 43.6% 8th
Blake Griffin 2017-18 17.4% 20th

DeAndre Jordan is shooting a five year low but the shots still go in a lot of the time because his launchpad is near the basket. His scoring is a four year low and he’s playing the worst defense he’s played since his second year in the league.  His streak of three straight 20+ PER is out the window, and without Chris throwing him lob after lob after lob, his usage rate has plummeted to pre-Chris Paul numbers. He is the 36th ranked center (Real Plus-Minus.) Last year he was 3rd.

The Chris Effect Usage Rate Real Plus-Minus Rank (C)
DeAndre Jordan 2016-17 15.3% 3rd
DeAndre Jordan 2017-18 12.5% 36th

It has almost been six years since Chris Paul came west and stood on Clippers soil and rescued their franchise. His presence in Los Angeles for the second favorite team was like an eclipse. It blocked out the sun because all the light in the room was Chris Paul. Nothing was the same for Donald Sterling’s team, nor was it the same for Chris Paul. He benefited in riches and in wins in a glamour market that attached themselves to his peculiar combination of boyishness and toughness. He was infinitely likeable in a town of plastic faces and fake hair. His addition here changed everything the Clippers had been before, all the Donald Sterling racist shade and cheap paychecks and injury tragedy that made many think the Sports Arena was built on an Indian burial ground. Sterling, who had disinterest in his own team other than schmoozing courtside with celebrities, began paying real attention now that Chris Paul was in residence.

Chris Paul gave the Clippers relevancy and stature. He didn’t care about the past, only the present, the right now, and winning his way, through leadership and clutch shot making.  His presence oozed respect, talent, commitment, willfulness and a winning culture. He was the leader from day one, coached by Vinny del Negro, and he was the leader on the last day, telling the Clippers no thank you, I am not going to come back, and oh, by the way, Austin Rivers was annoying, you wouldn’t trade for Carmelo, and Doc got on my last nerve. So Clips bye.

A few hours later, Paul stunned the NBA, not with a move to San Antonio, who can actually compete offensively and defensively with the Warriors, but a quick bolt to the Rockets and their defense-less three point shooting love fest.

In the wake of his defection everyone put on a happy face and tried to make nice and there was even some Blake Griffin is going to lead the team to the Promised Land wishful thinking.

The Clippers are not very good without Chris Paul. Even in his absence, he still looms over the franchise in a Kobe Bryant way but worse. The Clippers have no young talent to mold and develop and turn the page. Blake is a good player but not a superstar. There is a lack of creators and versatility on the ball club.

Lou Williams plays zero defense. Wesley Johnson plays zero offense. Gallinari has been injured. Patrick Beverley is done. Chatter extraordinaire about a Kevin Love-Blake Griffin swap holds your interest while watching a third quarter from Clippers hell. Love is a stats whore who will go after numbers hard. He knows how to play on a bad team and make them look respectable. But it is still the same thing Doc tried to avoid in Boston. The team’s best player cannot elevate the average. The Clippers without a talent infusion are headed for the lottery.

In Los Angeles, you can take on a multiplicity of identities but you can’t be boring. The Clippers are boring. They don’t do anything memorable. They are average shooters and three point makers, horrible at the line even though DeAndre has improved. They are 25th in defensive rebounding, 26th in assists, 22nd in blocks. Their scoring makes you want to yawn, most of their games are unwatchable. Defense is forgettable, posting a 24th defensive rating.  Fast break points are not what they were last year because their point guard is in Houston.

The Clippers lost their best player. They lost their leader and face of the franchise. They lost their competitor. They lost their critic. They lost their clutch player. They lost their toughest player. They lost their only perimeter defender. Nothing good is happening in Los Angeles anymore now that Chris Paul is gone, despite the inclusion of Jerry West into the organization to advise the helpless.

The Clippers are rebuilding. But they won’t call it that. They will desperately hang on to the last of the tribe, the always injured Blake Griffin. It is their last Hail Mary pass while standing on the 30 yard line with the wind in their face and their fans headed for the exits.

Los Angeles is hosting the All-Star game and it may be the first All-Star game in history without a participant from the host city. The Lakers are expected to go through rebuilding changes but the Clippers? It’s is tough in Staples Center this season.

Doc Rivers has done this before though.  A long time ago, he took a team no one thought much of and they had a 41-41 record and he was Coach of the Year. But so much has changed since then, not to mention the Western Conference is tougher than it has ever been with Paul in Houston and Jimmy Butler in Minneapolis. You cannot get worse. You cannot lose your best player and pulse of your team. You cannot absorb a sucker punch, a blow to the face that leaves you reeling. And think you will be in the playoffs.

A rich owner, a billionaire, couldn’t keep Paul in L.A., an indictment on the fragile NBA system. Stars don’t think twice about leaving. They bear up even as tragic fans are moaning.

If there is any irony at all it is that Donald Sterling is a hazy figure and the Clippers still got stabbed in the heart. And by their savior no less. The one they stole from the Lakers. So, perhaps there is karma after all.

The Clippers are going backwards faster than you can say Clippers Curse and never been to a Conference Final. But no one who has been on this Chris Paul ride is surprised it happened to them by one of their own.