BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
The Los Angeles Clippers are stuck in a matrix of denial and misconception, and the only way to change direction is to move on from point guard Chris Paul.
When the Clippers acquired/stole Paul from the New Orleans Hornets, dreams of lobs and highlight plays danced in everyone’s head. Five years later, a reality of disappointment has dampened that dream.
There is a point in every player’s career when his true identity becomes firmly established. The 2015 NBA playoffs was that moment of clarity for the point guard. What has been apparent from the start is that “CP3” is a good point guard who often teeters on the verge of greatness. Alas, a player who can only get a squad but so far.
For an organization that has never played in the conference finals, yet alone the NBA Finals, such thoughts are likely to be dismissed. After all L.A. amassed a franchise record 57 wins in the 2013 – 2014 season and have made five consecutive playoff appearances, also a franchise record.
Life has been good for Clipper fans. That losing feeling that has engulfed them is now gone, and replaced by a confident arrogance.
The question now is how can/will this once doormat franchise surpass this point (pun intended)?
It felt as if the 2014 – 2015 playoffs were going to be that moment of jubilation for the Clipper Nation. Coming off three consecutive years of 50 or more wins and four straight playoff appearances, the Paul led bunch looked poised for, at the very least, a Western Conference Finals appearance. Their record of 56 – 26 (tied with the Houston Rockets) was good enough for second in the conference.
The Clips fought off an aging San Antonio Spurs squad, and avoided elimination in games six and seven. The comeback series win did little to stifle the lofty season expectations.
A second round match-up against the Houston Rockets appeared to be a mere stepping stone as Los Angeles would take a 3 to 1 series lead.
Then the things went the way of every other Chris Paul led group. But before we go forward, let us first go back a bit.
As a senior at West Forsyth High School in North Carolina, Paul led the Titans to a 27 – 3 record. Only to come up empty by losing to Zebulon Vance High School, from Charlotte. That was West Forsyth’s only loss to a North Carolina school during that 2002 – 2003 season. The defeat meant Chris would end his high school career without a championship. While minute at the time, it would be a recurring theme throughout his career.
Next was the 2005 NCAA tournament loss. The guard’s second seeded Wake Forest Demon Deacons were eliminated by the seventh seeded West Virginia Mountaineers 111 – 105. The Demon Deacons had maintained a top five ranking for most of the college season, and were heavily favored in the second round contest.
A trend was developing.
Finally, very few recall or recant the 2007 – 2008 season. The North Carolina native’s Hornets had finally removed themselves of the Oklahoma City/New Orleans tag and were officially New Orleans’ property.
With a record of 56 – 26 (sounding familiar) the Hornets were the second seed in the Western Conference and a quick dismantling of the Dallas Mavericks (4 – 1) meant the defending champion San Antonio Spurs were next.
New Orleans would take a 2 – 0 series lead winning game one by 19 points and game two by 18 points. The Spurs would respond, as champions do, and tie the series up 2 – 2. However, a 22 point game five win despite Paul shooting a paltry 6 for 18 served as a spring board into the Western Conference Finals.
The Hornets had three blowout wins under their belt, a game six win was a mere formality. Or so we thought. The Spurs would win the next two games, and the series 4 – 3. With the world watching and waiting expectantly, “CP3” again came up short. The aforementioned pattern had progressed from “developing” to “cemented. “ But there was still hope. This was only the guard’s third NBA season, after all.
Now back to the future, or better yet back to the 2015 playoffs. The Clippers had just taken a resounding 3 – 1 series lead with a 33 point win against the Houston Rockets. The Western Conference Finals and possibly a trip to the NBA Finals seemed imminent, or maybe not.
Despite a 22 point, 10 assist effort, Los Angeles would lose game five……..by 21 points. Game six at home would be another loss, this time by 12 points 119 – 107. The box score would read 31 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for the point guard. Game seven was another reminder that the former Demon Deacon is nothing if he is not consistent, Rockets 113 Clippers 100.
Another series and another unprecedented early exit.
You see for all the things Paul is, champion is not one of them. The future Hall-of-Famer has been tremendous at times, but unfortunately not at the right time. Now his defenders will attempt to excuse the results with an abundance of reasons, before ultimately uttering “it is a team sport”. Yet this mindset is often absent when success is reached.
Injuries ended the 2015 – 2016 campaign earlier than expected, and we can all pretend there is a possibility that the results that have been so prevalent going back to that lone loss to Vance High School in the state finals will not materialize.
We can even provide reasons to excuse the lack of championship appearances. Or we can embrace the facts, even if they are accompanied with unintentional cruelness. Paul, for all his individual accolades and momentary supremacy, is not capable of pointing a team in a championship direction. His play and the, shall we say, plethora of reasons to excuse the lack of hardware confirm it.
The Clippers must make the difficult decision to trade the guard for a younger more dynamic player who Head Coach Doc Rivers can develop into a champion. Time has shown us at what point the season will end with Paul. Will a changing of the guard be what it takes to navigate this Clipper ship into some unchartered waters?