We’ve ALL seen it- out on the town, Saturday night; trendy club, adult beverages flowing, music pumping, some bro losing his dinner in the restroom. When the night is young, you see the revelers at their best; relaxed, trying to catch that one woman’s eye from across the room, knocking back shots…until it comes- Last Call. The switch is flipped; men AND women go from party to hunt mode; your boy who was just making a joke about a rabbi and Jesse Jackson walking into a bar now has a mad shine in his eye and smells of flop sweat. It’s a sad reality; as the night winds down, some people hate to go home by themselves.
Yesterday at 11:30 PST, the overhead white lights came on, the DJ started spinning Boyz II Men’s “End of The Road”, and teams rushed to find a hook up who would provide a vital role player, or take their onerous contracts or under-performing vets, or, in a new twist, to take their elite “cornerstone” who juuuust wasn’t sure if he was going to sign that extension in 2 years.
At 1st glance, it looks like the Clippers/Cavs dalliance was one of those ill-fated, vodka hazed trysts, a clumsy trade where both parties shame-walk away the next morning, club clothes, bed head, and all. But as we discussed right here yesterday, the Clips actually did themselves a solid with this swap; they got younger, more accurate from 3, and shored up what’s arguably their weakest position, small forward. Things have been glum in Clipper Land since Eric Gordon went down on January 23rd; any shot at the playoffs has basically been steamrolled by their recent 4-11 (26.7%) stretch over the last 15 games. (Yup. 4-11. AND they had gone 11-4 in the games directly proceeding Gordon’s injury. Eric Gordon for MVP!).
Fear not, steadfast ClipperNation. It’s always darkest before the dawn, always look for the silver lining, keep reaching for the stars, and a plethora of other cliches that I refuse to look up or understand. While this team is taking it’s lumps, there are plenty of reasons to look ahead to 2012 and beyond with out needing a tequila shot and a handkerchief to dry your bitter, bitter tears.
- Trading Baron makes them better
I covered this right here yesterday, but it’s worth reiterating: Mo Williams is 3 years younger, shoots better, and while he may not be the facilitator that Boom Dizzle is, playing on that squalid Cavs team will lead Mo to thoroughly appreciate the chance to run with not just a an elite level shooting guard, but the NBA’s future premiere power forward. Add into the mix 6’7” swingman Jamario Moon, a long limbed, active defender who can get out and run in transition, Chris Kaman and Craig Smith both returning from injuries, and Eric Gordon returning any day now, and suddenly the Clips have an above average starting 5, quality depth at every position (Randy Foye will look a lot better coming off of the bench with no pressure, Eric Bledsoe is improving in leaps and bounds already at the point, and Al-Farouq Aminu will come back next year stronger and ready to go the full 82), and a bevy of bigs, not just warm bodies, but actual producers. And speaking of bigs…
- The Clippers have THE best overall front-line in the league
Chris Kaman averaged 18.5 ppg, 9.3 rbg, and a block a game last year. Injuries have limited him to only 13 games so far this season, but he’s shown definite flashes of his ’09-’10 game. Similarly, Craig Smith is trying to work his way into shape and return to his numbers from last year (7.8 ppg, 4 rpg). DeAndre Jordan has displayed freak athleticism and tremendous shot blocking ability (almost 7 ppg, 7 rbg, 1.7 blks). Ike Diogu comes off of the bench for 6.5 ppg and almost 4 rpg on 55% shooting. And of course the crown jewel is rookie extraordinaire Blake Griffin. The superlatives have been exhausted; raw numbers speak for themselves- 22.8 ppg, 12.6 rpg, 51% shooting, 2 or 3 jaw-dropping plays a game that a brute his size shouldn’t be able to pull off. With Griffin and Jordan on the floor together, there isn’t a more athletic front court, and I’d put this 5-man front court rotation against any 4 or 5 man front court in the league. Bynum/Pau/Gasol is great, but who’s behind them, quick? On sheer numbers and experience the Celtics WERE comparable, but shipping out Kendrick Perkins and Semih Erden leaves only the Zombie O’Neals manning the middle, seriously weakening Boston’s interior dominance.
- The Clippers have one of the elite duos in the NBA
This isn’t just my opinion. Compared to the other elite duos around the NBA, Blake and Gordon match up surprisingly well.
Look closely. LeBron and Wade score efficiently, rebound, and dime; they’re the standard bearing 1-2 punch. Amar’e and Melo composite scoring and rebounding look decent (until you realize that Melo is having one of the best rebounding seasons of his career, and Stoudemire is a 6’10” super-athlete who plays big minutes; no excuse for him not averaging 11+), but the lack of playmaking from either is glaring compared to the others. Curry and Ellis don’t stack up in the scoring, rebounding, or getting fouled department; if there’s any example of why this isn’t a duo to build around, it’s right here). The only thing Gordon and Blake don’t do at a pretty high level is hit their free-throws, and it’s actually Griffin’s abysmal 61.6% that drags down Gordon’s 82% from the line. Moving forward, because of the relative youth and upside, I say only the Miami Heat have a definitive advantage over the Clips, and I’m giddy just thinking about watching OKC and the Clippers wage war for the West over the next decade.
Injuries have derailed this season, but the team still plays hard and is still engaged, something you don’t always see on teams that lose in bunches. The team is young, it’s hungry, and all the pieces are in place to start ramping up the wins as the decade moves forward. Size and versatility in the front court, upgrading the perimeter (albeit incrementally) while improving the financial situation to maintain flexibility, and grooming one of the best inside-outside combos in the league are all pretty good landmarks on the road to success; ClipperNation just has to be a little patient and enjoy the ride.
Agree? Think I’m full of it? Wanna roll to a Clips game next month? Leave me a comment below, or hit me on Twitter, @SnottieDrippen or @Fully_Clips