Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Art of Managing the Clippers

Last night the Los Angeles Clippers, who share a building—and rafters—with one of the most storied franchises in professional sports, won the NBA Draft Lottery for the third time in the last 20 years. Since 1998—the last time they have won the draft—the Clippers have missed the NBA lottery only once. The Orlando Magic, on the other hand, who also have won the NBA lottery 3 times, have been in the playoffs over half of the 20 years they have been in the NBA—or 10 times more than the Clippers. In order words, they used those picks wisely (Dwight Howard, Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal). The Clippers (Michael Olawokandi, Danny Manning, ????) have not.

What is it about the Clippers? Despite seemingly constantly picking high in the NBA Draft, they possess the third worst franchise win percentage—only ahead of the Grizzlies and the Bobcats, both newer franchises—at an appalling .362. They are the oldest NBA team (1971) to never appear in an NBA Finals. In their 39 years of existence, they've had a .500 or better record just 7 times. And only one winning season since the 91-92 season.

It can't be the lack of talent—they have had some good players in their history. In fact, their current roster, despite their 19-62 isn't all that terrible. Al Thorton, Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Zach Randolph, Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman when he's healthy...maybe not world champions, but 19 wins?

No, it's the guys "managing" the team. Even since the beginning of the franchise, the Clippers have made stupid trades, made ridiculous picks and overall, ran the teams into the ground. And this history of mismangement and incompetence isnt just modern dday; it goes back to the very beginning of the franchise. In 1976, they traded former Rookie of the Year and MVP, Bob McAdoo for the immortal John Gianelli and cash. A few years later, the Clippers traded World B. Free for Phil Smith, who immediately underperformed. Around that time, the Clippers also signed former MVP Bill Walton, but only after his career had begun to be derailed by constant foot injuries. From 1979 to 1985, Walton played in 169 games for the Clippers—about two full seasons—many of them, off the bench. He was a shell of his former self.

The list of ridiculousness goes on. Drafting Olawokandi over Dirk Nowitzski, Paul Pierce or Vince Carter. Drafting Chris Wilcox over Amare Stoudamire. Trading Antonio McDyess for Rodney Rogers. Drafting Reggie Williams over Scottie Pippen, Reggie Miller or Kevin Johnson.

And this mismanagement runs down to the players—it permeates their play. They know the history of folly. They know management would never do what it takes to help them go deep into the playoffs—never make a trade for a big name player, never sign a free agent all-star. Or that if they do make a trade, that management didn't do their diligence, and he is injured, or wont fit in well. They know this and it shows in their play. It shows. It shows in the 19-62 record of players who are better than that.

Which brings us to the present. Blake Griffin will most likely be a Clipper. Or will he? The Clippers already have a number of post players, Camby, Thornton, Randolph, Kaman, Tim Thomas and a few others. Would anyone put it past the Clippers to pick someone else? Or trade the pick? Or something else equally fruitless that we haven't imagined?

The Clippers have been mismanaged for too long. Lets hope that with this pick, it begins a start in the right direction—respectability.

1 comment:

Travis said...

I think they would be more apt to trade the pick than anything else. They are notoriously cheap, and may not want to spend that kind of a change on an overall number 1. Even if there is a cap a rookie can make. I can easily see them doing that.

I always wondered what Elgin Baylor could do as a GM, if given a decent salary. Then I think even with a sorry budget to work with, you would think he would get to the playoffs more often kind of by accident, because 8 teams make it from his conference each year.