The Los Angeles Clippers entered this season as a team with multiple knuckleheads on the roster.
You know what a knucklehead generally is, but let’s be clear and up front about it: A knucklehead is someone who persistently makes egregiously bad decisions, on or off the court, to the extent that his team is repeatedly and significantly harmed by those actions. These players might be very talented, and they might even make substantial contributions to counterbalance their most negative actions, but they still remain prisoners of bad habits with noticeably damaging effects to their own careers and the welfare of their teammates.
Once in a great while, a team with two or more knuckleheads wins it all. Look at the Phil Jackson Lakers with Andrew Bynum and Metta World Peace. They kept their knucklehead tendencies at bay just enough to win the NBA title. That’s the exception which proves the rule, however. It’s not the norm.
One knucklehead (Dennis Rodman on the 1996 Bulls, Vernon Maxwell on the 1994 Rockets, Rasheed Wallace on the 2004 Pistons) can, in all his free-spirited madness, still coexist with centered and balanced teammates in an appreciably cohesive mix. Two knuckleheads? That’s pushing it. Kobe, Pau, Phil, and Derek Fisher all contained problems without letting them spill over in Los Angeles. Most multi-knucklehead teams don’t possess enough greatness elsewhere on a roster or coaching staff to succeed at the highest level.
Enter the Los Angeles Clippers, one of the worst-run franchises in the history of sports with one of the most barren and stomach-punched histories of any North American professional sports team.
They just can’t get out of their own way.
They took on two knuckleheads, Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson. They released Smith earlier this month, to the surprise of no one. That seemingly reduced their knucklehead total to one (unless you considered Jamal Crawford another example).
— The Comeback (@comeback_sports) January 26, 2016
Blake Griffin has entered the town limits of Knuckleheadville. It seems hard to dispute the assertion at this point. The act of injuring a hand is one thing; doing so off the court as an extension of behavior is another; behaving poorly toward a member of the team’s own staff? It’s right out of the J.R. Smith knucklehead owner’s manual. It’s something one can easily imagine Rodman or Metta World Peace doing in a fit of rage. The Clippers were already a fragmented team with unproven leaders — Chris Paul might be the best point guard on the planet, but in terms of cultivating a harmonious locker room, he’s very much whiffed over the years.
Yes, it was and still is easy to say that a lack of leadership skills doomed the Clippers last spring against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference semifinals. However, what lost Game 6 for them is that J.J. Redick stopped hitting shots, abruptly limiting the Clippers’ offensive options and their ability to spread the floor. Pouncing on Paul and Griffin for intangibles such as “leadership” did not really seem fair back then.
After the 2015 “Summer of DeAndre” and all the rifts it revealed within the Clippers’ locker room, it became more legitimate to wonder if CP3 and Blake were being responsible team members. Say what you want about Paul, but this incident involving Mr. Griffin now reveals him to be a knucklehead in full.
The Clippers and Doc Rivers knew they’d be highly scrutinized after the DeAndre Jordan soap opera tore through the internet last summer. They knew they’d have to repair what had been damaged (or even broken) if they wanted any chance to reach the first Western Conference Finals series in franchise history. The aspiration to be great should always exist, but teams often forget that the reality of aspiration must be supported by concrete daily practices which reinforce good habits and create the internal climate which is conducive to fulfilling those aspirations.
The Clippers obviously still don’t get it, Blake Griffin most of all. If fans and analysts wonder why this organization hasn’t ever reached the third round of the playoffs, Griffin has reminded them:
They’re the Clippers. More precisely, they’re the Clippers, the team with multiple knuckleheads and highly deficient leaders.
Blake Griffin is, on the basis of pure talent, one of the 15 best basketball players in the world. Viewed strictly through the prism of his skill set, it’s crazy for the Clippers to want to trade him. After this incident, it becomes a lot more realistic to pursue the idea that the Clippers should purge their roster of knuckleheads and give Chris Paul players the point guard enjoys playing with.
It has to be a lot less enjoyable to play with Blake Griffin after he did what he did a few nights ago. Such is life for the Clippers, the knucklehead team that can’t ever get out of its own way.