NBA historians will one day look back at the Clippers “Lob City” era and mark them as one of the great underachievers ever. Sure,the history of the franchise is so dark a run of playoff appearances and flirtations with greatness feels like a peak. In many ways, it is. The apex of the Clippers history was the last six years. But that doesn’t erase the fact it should’ve been so much more.
Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have 17 All-Star Game slots between them. One of the best point guards ever in his prime, with one of the league’s fiercest defensive players, plus a perennial All-Star at power forward. Take that nucleus and add an NBA Championship head coach. It’s almost impossible to believe they never made a conference finals.
Think about that: The three-headed monster of Paul-Griffin-Jordan never even made the final four. Couldn’t even inch past the second-round. The Raptors, Hawks, Rockets, Pacers, Grizzlies, Suns, Magic and Nuggets have all made the conference finals in the last eight years. Yet, did any of them match the talent of L.A. when healthy?
Yes, the Clippers had some bad luck. Potential deep playoff runs were upended by injuries. The West was a deep conference in the prime years of Lob City. LAC ran into the teeth of the talented Thunder, the savvy Spurs and the historic Warriors. But they also lacked a cohesion championship teams must own.
Look no further than how the marriage between Paul and his coach ended for a blueprint on why every season ended in disappointment. It was the perfect microcosm of the Clippers failings.
On Paul’s way out the door, Rivers made a point to underline his floor general held plenty of blame for their playoff exits. “This story is about Chris leaving. He is the one that decided to leave,” Doc said. “The fault is we didn’t do well enough to keep him. We played a role in that. In not winning. But Chris was part of that, too. He was on that team that didn’t win. So, we all played a part in not winning. That’s just life. It wasn’t my fault or Jamal [Crawford’s] fault or whoever. It was all of us. Chris was on that team that didn’t win too. He didn’t do something right. I didn’t do something right.”
Those are not exactly the words of a coach waxing poetic about an era or one of his stars. Scott Brooks would’ve never said that about Kevin Durant leaving. Mike Brown would’ve never uttered those words about LeBron James after “The Decision.” Coaches always wish their departing players the best, say some corny things about toughness and competitive fire. But Doc grabbed Paul’s reputation, dragged it into the fray, and wrestled it to the mud. Doc won’t let anyone forget the losing had as much to do with the State Farm Star as anyone.
This is more than likely a response to the rumors Paul’s camp floated about Doc undermining the franchise by favoring his son, Austin. And right here is the perfect illustration of why the Clippers could never win. Their DNA wasn’t banding closer together, leaning on and trusting one another. Their DNA was blaming and pointing fingers. It’s not me, it’s him!
There were always stories of how Paul and Griffin didn’t truly get along, and how players didn’t trust Doc’s motives all the time. And along the way Jordan tried to escape (but got convinced to stay), Griffin fought his trainer, and Big Baby excoriated his coach. Then to finish it off was the Hall of Famer and the championship coach pointing fingers at one another. Why didn’t the Clippers win more despite boatloads of talent? Seems pretty obvious why.
D.A. hosts 9am-12 pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.