Back in the Bubble: The Clippers are ready to redefine themselves

The NBA is back. Kind of.

The league is facing their version of a new normal. In their words, it’s a whole new game for everyone. What wonders will the Disney Bubble bring to the teams, players, fans and even the league itself?

The name Saul Goodman rings a bell for fans of Breaking Bad, especially being one of the key supporting characters throughout the show. In its spin-off entitled Better Call Saul, Goodman is at center stage as viewers follow his journey from an obscure law practitioner working in the shadows of his older and much more successful brother, to being one of the best, whilst also sketchiest, lawyers in New Mexico as he was established in the parent show.

You’re probably wondering right now how a fictional criminal lawyer could be related in any way to the LA Clippers, but trust me, this is all going to tie together.

Photo from the NBA

Saul’s journey to public service would not have become as successful as it had if it weren’t for a little sibling rivalry. As hard as he worked to master the craft, his older brother was just far more intelligent and experienced than him. In addition to that, Saul had built up quite a bad reputation in the past, so toiling for respect was twice as hard. It got to a point where he had nowhere to go in the industry at a conventional sense, but he managed to finally earn acclaim in something he got good at: criminal law. When I say criminal law, I want to put emphasis on the word criminal because he basically became one being entangled between illegal activity in New Mexico, but hey, recognition is recognition.

When I look at the Clippers, I see Saul Goodman. Though I’m pretty sure the Clippers aren’t involved with outlaws and drug cartels, they’re famous for being the unfortunate little brother to the celebrated Lakers. Their poor track record speaks for itself. In their 50 years of existence, they’ve only ever made the playoffs 14 times (not including this season). The closest they ever got to a title was a seven-game quarterfinal series that will forever end in infamy as the series where they allowed the Rockets’ Josh Smith and Corey Brewer to eliminate them.

We don’t talk enough about how surprisingly the Clippers sustained their competitive element after its Lob City years disintegrated into nothing in 2017. In decades past, the Clips would have sold the barn for another 10 something years of miserable basketball. The vicious cycle of superstar injuries, draft busts, and idiotic free agency moves would have continued because frankly, that’s the very definition of the Clippers various NBA circles have accustomed to.

However, the Clippers, for the first time ever, are ready to move past the accumulation of front office mishaps resulting in on-court abominations. Gone are the days of the racist fleabag that is Donald Sterling, the hanging selfies in Staples Center, and the annual disappointments. The Clippers know better now; they’ve equipped themselves with the likes of enthusiastic and far from cheap owner Steve Ballmer, highly-competent executives Jerry West and Lawrence Frank, and respected coach Doc Rivers. This combination of minds would architect an impressively short two-year turnaround that turned the Clippers from a team contending for a League Pass title, to a team that could win an actual title.

It started with a risk

Just like the daredevil ways of Saul Goodman that propelled him up the ranks, the Clippers turnaround wasn’t one without risks. The dominos started to fall when the team traded franchise player Blake Griffin to the Pistons back in 2018. Trading a fan favorite, if they were any of the other 29 teams, would have already been cause for fans to bring out the pitchforks, but the Clippers figured they didn’t have anything to lose. Eventually, those pieces from Detroit turned into even more pieces: draft picks, underrated players, and trade chips that the Clips used to form the lovable 2019 Playoff team led by Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, and Patrick Beverley that pushed the colossal Warriors to six games in the first round.

The Clippers could have easily stuck to that gritty team and kept them intact, but cute stories can only get you so far, and it definitely would not be far enough to combat the brewing mega duo the Lakers formed with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Clippers took a leap of faith, and by virtue of smart moves on the executive side during their swift rebuild, saw them have enough cap room to sign reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. His demand of another superstar was a no-brainer for the Clippers. With the amount of tradeable assets they had stockpiled, they were able to pry Paul George from the Thunder. In the process, the Clippers gambled most of their future to assemble this team, but they were done with waiting around. All of a sudden, this became a vital season where they could tip the scales of Los Angeles in their favor. It was time to win now.

Setting the stage

With their new superstars in town, the Clippers were immediately faced with a significant amount of pressure to be among the top teams in the tough Western Conference gauntlet.

Right from Day 1, the Clippers wasted no time in making a statement when they stunned the Lakers on opening night. This struck a chord of fear to the rest of the league. Here where the stalwart Clippers, who were presented with a measuring stick on their first day, and they instantly obliterated that stick with terrifying all-around play. The team’s capabilities should have come with no surprise judging from the sheer amount of versatility the roster possessed on paper, but actually seeing it on court was a thing of awe.

Over the course of the season, the Clippers sustained a level of play that made teams think twice on both ends. Standing at 44-20 when the season was suspended, the Clippers stand high atop the league as the third best offense and fifth best defense.

It goes without saying that Kawhi Leonard (26.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5 assists) and Paul George (21 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists), are going to get their numbers at will, but what sets the Clippers apart from every other team is their superb collection of reserves that make up their incredibly deep roster. Holdovers Williams and Harrell are averaging a combined 35.1 points off the bench, with the latter leading the Sixth Man of the Year award conversations. Rounding up the subs are a cycle of shooters, stretch bigs, and playmakers that have launched the bench mob to firsts in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Nitpicking is a must for doubters of this supersized version of the Clippers, and if there’s one point of concern, it’s their midseason acquisitions of Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson, and Joakim Noah. Being a trio with atomic personalities, questions have risen on possible chemistry issues with just a few amount of games left, but if all goes well, these three additions could be huge in bolstering their already robust bench.

Another concern for the team moving forward is the amount of games played by Leonard and George. Particularly for PG13, who missed the first 11 games of the season because of an injury to his right shoulder. Durability is a question for him entering the bubble, especially since he likewise missed significant time during the season due to a recurring hamstring injuries. These reduced George to playing just 42 games. As for Leonard, load management is still the main game for him missing 13 games so far, but wit’s important to remember that all the rest he got resulted in monstrous postseason run for the Klaw last season.

Sixteen more wins

As the Clippers enter the season restart, they’ve already garnered more than enough respect. They’re second in the West, and with one of the easier seeding schedules, they’re primed to stay put near the top of the standings. Consensus from around the NBA has them in the same level as the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers, an echelon up high and above the rest of the teams with a high possibility of being in the Finals near the end of this season.

However, anything short of a title would be a disappointment for the Clippers. In years before, even just reaching the Conference Finals would already have been a monumental achievement in its own right for the historically hapless Clippers. This season, the standard is higher. the Clippers have had enough of trailing behind its big brother.

We’re mere days away from the season restart, and even before the regular season ends, the Clippers are already at their closest to a championship. Regardless of whatever questions of legitimacy may be raised for the 2020 title, winning it all this year will do wonders for the Clippers’ image. Most of their vets could win a coveted first ring. Paul George’s infamous Playoff P persona could cease whispers of doubts. Kawhi Leonard could further solidify his case as the best player of the league. Most importantly, the Los Angeles Clippers could finally do something they’ve never done in their years of misery: redefine themselves.

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