Last Monday morning the Clippers announced that they had parted ways with former General Manager Neil Olshey, a far cry from the report just days before that the Clippers had retained Olshey with a principle agreement on the preceding Friday. An hour after Monday’s announcement there was another report, one about Olshey signing an agreement to be the new GM of the Portland Trail Blazers. This comes to no surprise for those who are familiar with A) Portlands long courtship of Olshey, B) the Clippers reluctance to commit the GM by giving him a month-to-month contract for last season, and C) thelongtime obsession with saving money (or being cheap, if you prefer) of the Clippers owner Donald Sterling, which has long been the determining factor of most of his teams basketball decisions. Olshey has gone on to deny the impact of money on the decision, but there is really no other explanation. The infamous Sterling simply chose not to fully reward the GM that built his franchises most successful team. Each stint of recent Clipper success has been followed by winning droughts and front-office blunders to remind fans that they are indeed the Clippers.
The Clippers run to the Western Conference Semi’s last season was new to a rabid and long suffering Clipper Nation. In an odd way, they have a touch of small town charm. I know the entire population of Oklahoma City can fit in LA Live, but the Clippers had an OKC-type feel to them last season, as longtime Clipper fans packed the Staples Center nightly and went nuts. The franchise has long played the role of kid brother, the JV team, the well warranted role of underdog. Forging a winning franchise is best with a sense of continuity. You don’t progress or regress with change, but only break ground and initiate.
The re-signing of Head Coach Vinny Del Negro was a rare sign of loyalty from Sterling, a boss who has seen a court for more law suits filed by employers (along with tenants from his real-estate success) than he has for basketball games. During, and after the season, there was d speculation that Del Negro was not going to be brought back. With the Clippers suddenly, because of Olshey, sporting a near contending roster, it would be an appealing position for a big named or more established coach looking for employment. One that can develop player’s skill and attitude. Even when they announced to bringing back Del Negro, many joked that it was because Sterling didn’t want to pay more for another coach, instead opting to pick up Del Negros option, the cost effective option. I thought it was a good idea to retain Del Negro (doesn’t mean I’m entirely sold though). I was happy to see him get a second shot with this roster, and hopefully take full advantage of the training camps and practices he was robbed of last season because of a silly labor dispute. Del Negro can even use the favorite excuse of his predacesor, Mike Dunleavy, and pull the injury card by constantly using injuries to key players as a shield from criticism. Duneavy just settled a suit with Sterling. Two years is the minimum evaluation period a coach has to get wheels of his program moving, and the Clippers showed loyalty in bringing back Del Negro.
Besides maintaining familiarity, the Clippers chose not to reward success. Olshey was no slouch, netting the franchise: Chris Paul (without surrendering Eric Bledsoe), Reggie Evans, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Kenyon Martin, DeAndre Jordan (re-signed), Nick Young and Mo Williams, arguably half of a championship roster’s worth players for a franchise that probably felt left out during the Draft Lottery last week.
The small lack of loyalty could not have come at a worse time. The Clippers acquired Paul with two years remaining on his deal, making this next season his last one under his current contract. Losing out on retaining Paul is a franchise killer for any team, let alone one like the Clippers who were just getting their first tastes of winning. The Clippers also have a chance in keeping the League’s most explosive player in Griffin, as his rookie contract comes to an end. Keeping Griffin is ‘1B’ to the ‘1A’of signing Paul, both are irreplaceable generational talents. The Clippers also need to re-sign Billups, who would need a good convincing that he won’t wilt away with an overwhelmed Clipper franchise. A change in culture was instituted with the acquisitions of both Paul and Billups and the Clippers are ran with it. Both brought a franchise known for futility, and a roster full of fresh faces an instant winning and veteran credibility. Paul , Billups, and Griffin will ultimately make long-term commitments and decide if the perennially cursed franchise is more than just a cute underdog story. New players combined with Del Negro’s old-school defensive philosophies (hit or be hit) created a new, winning culture that had championship foundations, all while Sterling was probably in his offices urinating himself trying to figure out how to pay for it all. There is much work to be done in Clipper Land. The search is now on for the man in charge of dealing with Sterling and trying to nurture this new thing called “winning”, which can be a contradictory notion given Sterling’s economic policy.
Last season the Clippers were an experiment on the go right from the start. They expedited their winning process by acquiring Paul/Billups, and reacted to the rapid change of expectation accordingly by blending their mix of youth and experience, physicality and athleticism for a winning formula. Success for the Clipper franchise is as rare as the solar eclipse the world enjoyed a few weeks ago, and any effort in sustaining an order of normalcy is good for the franchise. The Clippers hobbled into the 2012 Western Conference Semi-Finals, a parade worthy achievement alone in Clipper Land. There is a contending team in that roster somewhere, but when fully healthy. Olshey being allowed to graze on greener pastures in Portland meant the Clippers missed out on exhibiting loyalty, missed out on continuity. Their fate is not doomed though by any means. Who knows, they might even get a better GM and re-sign each impact player. But again, beware, because success is rarely continued by the Clippers for a reason. I mean they are, after all, the Clippers.