Wednesday night the Clippers went from “good young team with potential” to “these guys are close to being contenders.”
The Clippers are not title contenders yet. Not until we see them play better and consistent defense. Not until we’re convinced Vinny Del Negro can coach a team to a championship. Not with the stopgap Chauncey Billups at the two and a second unit that has a nice point guard then Randy Foye, Trey Thompkins, Ryan Gomes and Brian Cook. That’s not depth.
But they are close. They have the best point guard in the game with Chris Paul and another potential franchise cornerstone in Blake Griffin. Their pick-and-roll will be the best in the game (Griffin told PBT he worked hard this summer on his jumper). DeAndre Jordan could be special. They just need time and a few more pieces.
Which is why it all comes down to Donald T. Sterling.
The Clippers have had the worst owner in professional sports for decades now. He has chased profits at the cost of winning. He has driven good players away. He is not a good person or boss (he paid out the largest single housing discrimination settlement in federal court history).
And now he can change that legacy. Or blow that chance and return them to being the Clippers.
Chris Paul is going to opt-in on his contract deal for next season — the Clippers have two seasons to convince him to sign an extension. Blake Griffin plays a role in that, certainly. But if Sterling cuts corners on getting quality role players to go around his stars, if he runs the organization as a second-rate business, if he brings his female friends into the locker room after games to show off his team, if he heckles a player from the sidelines like he did Baron Davis, he could blow this.
Donald Sterling has to become the silent owner. Stay out of GM Neil Olshey’s way. The building is going to fill up, pay more to bring in good role players (even if it means paying the luxury tax). Don’t speak to the media and stay away from the players. There are good people working for the Clippers at every level, let them do their job without interference. Don’t screw this up.
Wednesday’s trade for Chris Paul could set the Clippers up for a decade. They are close, they have the pieces to build a serious contender, the holy grail so many teams are chasing.
Or Sterling could blow it and Paul could be gone in a couple years.
Don’t blow in Sterling. It is all on you now.