The expletive was loud enough to be heard from press row behind the Clippers’ basket, a shriek coated in futility and resonating with pain.
The Clipper Curse was appropriately accompanied by a Clippers’ curse.
“(Bleep!)’’ shouted Blake Griffin.
When Griffin hit the floor after a collision with teammate Austin Rivers on Monday night, the Clippers’ season collapsed with him.
Their best player, Griffin is out for two months with a sprained knee. Their floor leader Patrick Beverley is out for the season after knee surgery. Four of their five projected starters are sidelined. They recently lost nine straight games.
And they really, really, really, really miss Chris Paul.
It’s only 19 games into an 82-game schedule, but their Staples Center sellout streak is busted, their playoff hopes are decimated and the nightly excitement of their Big Three has been reduced to One and Done.
It’s time for the Clippers to face a reality that they’ve been blissfully able to avoid for six years, a reality they should have faced last summer when Paul packed his bags. It’s time for them to do something they should have done before ever foolishly agreeing to give the injury-prone Griffin five years and $173 million.
It’s time for them to crater their club with TNT.
Trade ‘N’ Tank.
Oh, please, don’t say you haven’t already thought of this. Any NBA fan in Los Angeles knows first-hand that while this might run counter to the competitive spirit, in today’s league it embodies that spirit.
At their lowest point, if teams want to become very good, they have to first be willing to be very bad. It’s the only way to accumulate the draft picks that will create the young stars. It’s not funny business, it’s good business.
In today’s NBA, the worst thing one can be is mediocre, yet at this point, the best thing the Clippers can be is mediocre. That means it’s time to begin rebuilding, and the Clippers need look no farther than down the hall to see how that works.
Remember the first thing Magic Johnson did after he took over the Lakers last winter? He traded their leading scorer Lou Williams, his coach gave big minutes to the kids, and the Lakers ended up with their third consecutive No. 2 overall pick and now the place is filled with promise.
It’s the Clippers’ turn, and it starts with those draft picks, and this annual injury loss of Griffin offers a perfect reminder of why.
Do you know how many impact players they have drafted since Griffin was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2009? Zero. Seriously. They are 0-for-seven years.
They’ve had exactly one pick in the top 24 since 2009, and that was Al-Farouq Aminu in 2010, and he’s a journeyman who lasted one season before leaving town in the trade for Paul. They’ve had eight other picks that have done nothing and meant little as the team thrived under Paul, Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Now that they’re down to just Jordan, those draft picks become their jewels, and it’s time to turn them into their future.
I attempted to broach this topic with Lawrence Frank, the team’s president of basketball operations, but a spokesman said Tuesday that because the Griffin injury just happened, the team was not prepared to comment on the long-term plan.
But there’s really only one option.
They already have one first-round pick for the 2018 draft, and they can get another one if they trade Jordan before he can opt out of his contract next summer. They should do it. Jordan has been a great and inspirational player here, but he seems lost without Paul, and would be a valuable inside presence on a title contender.
Stocked with those two first-round picks, they can probably get another draft pick by trading Lou Williams. They should do it. His great scoring is as superfluous on this team as it was on last year’s Lakers. He can be some contender’s heat off the bench in the spring, just as he was for the Houston Rockets last year.
Even when Griffin returns, and even after Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic come back from their injuries, those trades should ensure that the Clippers will finish near the bottom of the standings, which is exactly where they want to finish. Here’s guessing they’ve built up enough equity with their diehard fans and sponsors that everyone will endure a few bad months for a chance at a return to contention. Clippers fans grew weary of the near-misses by the The Big Three. They’re probably ready for a new era, as ugly as its creation might be.
All of this leaves the team with one remaining question: What do they do with Doc Rivers?
Rivers, who lost his role as basketball personnel boss this summer, might want to eventually give up his role as coach. Or the Clippers might want to eventually take it from him. Rivers didn’t sign up to oversee a bunch of kids, and the Clippers didn’t hire him to be a babysitter. If the culture changes, surely so will the coach.
“I’ve can’t feel sorry. Ever. Ever,’’ the ever-optimistic Rivers said Monday before the Clippers defeated the Lakers. “I just know there’s another day, there’s a next day, and you coach to that day, you coach your guys to believe that, I’ve gone through far worse as a coach. This group, let’s get healthy, let’s see what we’ve got.”
A couple of hours later, Griffin’s knee buckled and this skittering Clippers season suddenly became a full-blown train wreck. Only this time, they can’t save it. They can’t even try. They have to confront it and clean it up and proactively remodel it for next season. This time, finally, the Clippers have to curse the Curse.