The era is over for the Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers are the best team in the National Basketball Association. Okay, okay. Fine. You’ve convinced me, they’re not. But for a moment, one special moment on May 10, 2015, they were. After dominating the Houston Rockets to the tune of a 3-1 series lead in the 2015 conference semi-finals, the Clippers were statistically favored to win the NBA championship by ESPN’s Basketball Power Index metric. Yes, really. And then they did just that. The end.
Nope. The Clippers collapsed in impressively shocking fashion, losing to the Rockets in a historical collapse. As All-NBA point guard Chris Paul left the Clippers earlier this summer after six complicated years with the team, we now know that Clippers-Rockets series to be definitively the high point and the low point of this Clippers era. These years were the most successful seasons in franchise history, as together with All-Star teammates Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the team reeled off six straight seasons with playoff appearances. At the same time, the team didn’t win the Championship. They just didn’t. Beyond that, they didn’t even get to the Western Conference Finals, exiting first and second rounds through both poetically inopportune injury and stunning feats of self-sabotage. At least Clippers fans will always have May 10.
Losing Chris Paul is big, and not just because he continues to be a top-10 player in the league and was the engine that made these Clippers teams kind-of-contenders. Great players can be replaced, and the Clippers have done an admirable job of filling out the roster to remain competitive. However, losing Chris Paul is big because it means this era, the greatest era in franchise history, is over. And that means that the greatest era in franchise history was a failure. Nothing can change that now. It’s done, and it leaves a lot unresolved and incomplete.
This was bound to happen eventually. Year after year of playoff exits, ranging from the expected to the heart-wrenching, just couldn’t continue. Despite this, it was still a massive shock when news broke that Chris Paul was heading to the Rockets. This era honestly just didn’t make sense — until the 2010s Clippers are analyzed through the comparative lens of Llewyn Davis.
"Inside Llewyn Davis", the 2013 masterpiece by the Coen Brothers, traces a week in the life of talented but unsuccessful folk singer Llewyn Davis in 1961 New York. In the movie, Llewyn is unable to make money from his records and exists in the Greenwich Village folk scene perpetually broke and unable to advance in his career. More than that though, he’s unable to succeed on his own terms as a solo artist. In order to move forward, he’s forced to compromise his principles in order to make any money, either by playing as a studio artist on a novelty song or as part of a trio.
Ultimately, both Llewyn and the Clippers were forced to confront the same questions: What if it just doesn’t work out? Do you keep going, running the same thing back only to watch others surpass you? Or do you give up and tear it all down?
The movie doesn’t show us what Llewyn chooses to do, but we probably know anyway. We know, despite his failed attempt to get a non-music job, that he can’t come to terms with a life outside of music, telling his sister that anything else is just “existing.” So, despite being beaten up and broken down, and soon to be overshadowed by the arrival of Bob Dylan, he probably keeps going. For years that’s what the Clippers did too, even after their own Bob Dylan, the powerful Golden State Warriors, arrived on the scene.
Perhaps there’s something to be said for sticking to who you are and running the boulder back up the hill even if deep down you know it’s going to fall back as soon as you let go. Llewyn made some good music, and those Clippers teams made real, audible noise. However, it sure would have been nice to win.