There's a ceiling in the NBA in the form of the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. The Los Angeles Clippers are right up against it. How will the team define success when the odds are stacked so heavily against them?
(LOS ANGELES, Calif.) -- This is not the year the Los Angeles Clippers win a championship.
Even with a completely healthy team through all 82 regular season games and beyond, the odds are stacked too high against them. Though that applies to any team not named the Golden State Warriors or Cleveland Cavaliers.
So what happens?
You redefine the meaning of success. This is especially important to the Clippers because the team looks to be at a major crossroads by the end of the season.Superstar forward Blake Griffin will be a free agent. The same goes for perhaps the league's best pure point guard, Chris Paul. Then there's shooting guard J.J. Reddick who set a franchise record for made three-pointers in a single regular season. He accomplished this feat with a league-leading three-point shooting percentage. Even more impressive when you factor in the evolving importance of the three-ball and, well, the existence of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Turns out he's on the last year of his contract as well.
But back to what it means to be successful for this year's squad.
It takes a bit of a trip down memory lane. When the team was established in 1970 as the Buffalo Braves, they made it to the playoffs three times in the first decade of existence. An unremarkable piece of history, but a highlight nonetheless for the franchise. The team had two Hall of Famers in 1974-75 MVP Bob Macadoo and the great Moses Malone, but the whole never did amount to something greater than its parts. In fact, Malone didn't really peak until a few years after he left Buffalo. Then they moved to sunny Southern California and continued decades of mediocrity as the San Diego Clippers. From time to time, great players came and went. Then Donald Sterling -- the owner everyone would like to forget -- bought the team and moved the whole operation to Los Angeles.
In the last five seasons, the Clippers made five consecutive playoff appearances -- a franchise record.On paper, it doesn't look great. In almost five decades, the team has never made it past the second round of the playoffs.
But what we are witnessing is essentially the best team ever assembled for this franchise.
"This is the deepest, most talented group we've had since I've been here," Rivers told reporters during a news conference last week. "That's why this year should be great." But in all honesty, "great" means something different to every team. For the Clippers this year, it essentially means making it past the second round of the playoffs.Many fans and analysts will call that a success for the Los Angeles Clippers. But the reality goes beyond the team's history and current situation.
The bitter truth is the franchise's real challenge is one of relevance.
After the team made a decent run in the 70s, they quickly reverted back to 15 years of playoff drought. It very much looks like they are on the edge of falling back into that trend once again especially in the context of star players and expiring contracts. Success might just be outlasting the short-term behemoths that are the Warriors and Cavs, while sustaining the level of play they are capable of now -- or something close to it.The future is bright nonetheless. It goes back to the beginning of the 2016 summer when then-free agent Kevin Durant even toyed with the idea of joining the Clippers.He said he was "blown away" by the "vision" of Doc Rivers and the open-mindedness of owner Steve Ballmer.
That may not add much weight to the 2016-17 season, but it says a lot about the priorities of the ownership and management.
That's truly an upgrade from the Sterling era. When you take in the entire history of the franchise, it seems like the team is in a good place and heading toward the right direction.