LA Clippers, Rest in Peace

Dominating big men and overpowering team defense led the Memphis Grizzlies to a fourth straight win over the LA Clippers, abruptly ending a season of outstanding firsts and unfilled promises. The question to ask now is will they build on the successes they did have this season, perhaps fulfilling that promise next year, of will they slip back to oblivion, with 2012-2013 becoming only a distant memory?

It can go either way. The key is Chris Paul, and how the front office will act when it comes time to put cash on the line for him and for others.

Paul is the difference maker, not between a division winner that loses its first round playoff series and a true championship contender, but between a middle to bottom of the pack lottery team and a division winner that loses its first round playoff series.

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Paul is for all intents and purposes now a free agent (though technically not until July 1) and his signing is priority one, two, three, four, five, ad infinitum. The other pieces can be handled once this is settled. The Clippers’ issue is the mirror image of the situation faced by the Lakers, who I have repeatedly made clear must say bye-bye to the plague of Deee-Wight Howard. Interestingly enough, on a team of athleticism, speed, great team defense, outstanding ball handling, and hopefully desire, Howard would be an infinitely better fit. If the Clippers’ purse strings are open and Howard moves on, could he choose to stay at Staples as a member of the Clippers?

The Clippers are use to a center who can do not much more than dunk on offense, who cannot shoot free throws, and who disappears in crunch time. I guess that begs the question as to whether or not Howard is worth $100-150 M more than DeAndre Jordan?

An issue of immediate concern for the Clippers is the future of Vinny del Negro. I’ve always supported him and thought that much of the criticism he has received to be unwarranted and undeserved. However, looking at the past week, when his team absolutely fell apart after getting off to a two-to-zero game lead, and looking at some of his personnel decisions, I now have to question his continued future with the team. In watching the awful end to the season last night, I could not comprehend how he kept certain people on the court when they clearly were not performing. I’m a big fan of Chauncey Billups (and do not strongly disagree with a local commentator who recently suggested that he should be the new Clippers’ head coach), but in the fourth quarter when del Negro stuck with him as he had seldom done all season, and let him throw up clinker after clinker, with Jamal Crawford and Willie Green, and at times Eric Bledsoe, all on the bench, I was dumbfounded. Granted, Crawford was having his worst game of the season, but all season long he was the guy (along with Paul) who the team counted on to put in the key points at crunch time. He could not do it from the bench.

In this series, coaching made the difference, and Lionel Hollins thoroughly out-coached del Negro. Try this one out as well: How about Phil Jackson to the Clippers? The rumors are strong that he wants back in to the NBA, through more likely than coaching to a front office, but the Pat Riley model of a year or two then moving up could be a possibility. One incident, though, mitigates against him ever taking a Clippers’ spot: Phil’s mentor was his coach at North Dakota, Bill Fitch. Supposedly, Phil and Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling have been at odds ever since Sterling fired Fitch as the Clippers coach in the late 90s and then forced Fitch into litigation to get paid what was due under his contract.

I expect 1) Phil will not become a Clipper, 2) Howard will not become a Clipper, 3) Paul will remain a Clipper, and 4) Del Negro will become an ex-Clipper.

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