It's the dog days of summer, a time for reflection on what transpired and conjecture of what will occur in the NBA. It's also a time for proclamations both wild and inane, whether that's James Harden declaring he's the best player in the NBA or Stephen Curry opining that he and Klay Thompson would make the best duo in the '90s arcade game NBA Jam.
LOS ANGELES -- The Clippers have been in Los Angeles for 30 years, but for the first time since they moved north from San Diego in 1984, they finally feel like a team Los Angeles can embrace.
And for the first time in the past three decades, Clippers fans can be proud to put on their team's gear without making apologies for their lousy owner or their lousy history or the lousy product on the court.
The shirts handed out to fans at the team's rally to introduce Steve Ballmer as the new Clippers owner read, "It's A New Day." But it seems more like a long overdue rebirth of a franchise.
Four months after the darkest period in the history of a franchise littered with dark periods, the Clippers finally have a reason to celebrate and rejoice in a new beginning.
Clippers coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers said he has witnessed a transformation of the faithful.
Nearly 5,000 fans showed up to Staples Center on Monday afternoon for a rally to welcome Ballmer, who ran through the crowd after being introduced to Eminem's "Lose Yourself" and high-fived and chest-bumped everyone in sight before jumping around on stage. It was a scene reminiscent of his viral videos on YouTube and something Clippers fans will get used to seeing on game days.
"I like to sit near the action," said Ballmer, who will be courtside at Clippers games. "It's more fun. That was the No. 1 piece of input I got last night at dinner with Doc, some of the coaches and players. We were all debating where the best place is to sit. Of course, none of them have to sit there, just me."
LOS ANGELES -- Sweating, clapping and shouting until he was nearly hoarse, Steve Ballmer introduced himself to Los Angeles Clippers fans at a rally on Monday celebrating his new ownership of the NBA team.
The former Microsoft CEO made his way through the crowd inside Staples Center to Eminem's "Lose Yourself," exchanging high-fives and chest-bumping as he took the stage in front of 4,500 fans.
Ballmer paid a record $2 billion for the team in a sale that was confirmed by a judge last week. The name of disgraced former owner Donald Sterling, who controlled the team for 33 years before being banned for life by the NBA for racist remarks, was never uttered during the event.
"We're looking forward," Ballmer proclaimed, having removed his blue Clippers hat. "Everything is about looking forward."
Ballmer's fervor was in stark contrast to Sterling, who never spoke to the media and was famously frugal when it came to spending on the team during decades of losing -- despite having amassed a fortune through real estate.
"Today is about this other guy who just happened to have two billion dollars in his pocket," coach Doc Rivers joked on stage. "I asked him are you sure it went through and he said, 'I know my bank account is minus two billion so I know something went through.' "
Ballmer gave out his email address during the televised rally and was quick to assure fans he won't move the team to Seattle, where he's lived for 34 years. He was nearly an NBA owner last year before league owners chose to keep the Kings in Sacramento, rather than allow them to be sold to a group that included Ballmer and moved to Seattle.
"I love Los Angeles," he said. "Yes, I live in Seattle. We're not moving the Clippers to Seattle for a hundred reasons."
Ballmer used a microphone, but his booming voice easily filled the arena without it. He prowled the stage and gestured to make his points in the enthusiastic style he was known for among Microsoft employees.
"We're going to be bold. Bold means taking chances," he said. "We're going to be optimistic. We're going to be hard-core. Nothing gets in our way, boom! The hard-core Clippers, that's us."
Do you know the last NBA champion that had its point guard lead the team in wins above replacement player (WARP)? It was the 1990 Detroit Pistons, led by Isiah Thomas. Perhaps it's no coincidence that teams like Phil Jackson's Bulls and Lakers, which decentralize the playmaking role, have dominated the annual title chase. Nevertheless, 20 of next season's top 50 players by projected WARP are point guards. Championship trends aside, it's a point guard's league.
Starting Monday with point guards, over the next week we'll rank players by position according to forecast WARP, which is perfect for this kind of exercise because it accounts for a player's efficiency, volume of production and team context. This also means that injury and age played a part in the rankings, so notable veteran point guards who suffered injuries last season, like Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose, Tony Parker, are absent from the top 10. (A complete explanation can be found at the bottom of this page; last year's point guard rankings can be found here.)
Here are the projected top 10 point guards for the 2014-15 NBA season, followed by the next five and an overview of why some notable PGs fell outside the top 10.
PG | SG | SF | PF | C
Projected 2014-15 WARP: 17.8 | Win%: 73 percent
Paul topped these rankings last season and, really, why would things have changed? His 14.2 WARP was held down by the 20 games he missed, but still ranked eighth in the league. Over the last three years, his 48.2 WARP ranks in the 99th percentile. Paul still hasn't enjoyed the magical kind of playoff run that would be the icing on the cake of a historically great career. He'll be 30 by the end of the coming season, but given Paul's floor-based skill set, there is no real need to start talking shrinking windows of opportunity. Paul does it all, he does it consistently and he does it on both ends of the floor.
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Donald Sterling lost what would appear to be his final move to block the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers.
Sterling's appeal of Tuesday's decision that closed the sale of the Clippers was denied Wednesday.
The appeal, a writ of supersedeas and request for an immediate stay, was Sterling's last-ditch maneuver to block the sale of the franchise to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
"The evidence before this court indicates the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers to Steven Ballmer has closed," the Court of Appeal said in its ruling. "Thus, there is nothing for this court to stay."
In addition, the court ruled that Donald Sterling "has failed to show that the balancing of the relative harms favors granting a temporary stay or supersedeas."
"We who represent Donald Sterling are deeply disappointed that he has been deprived from ownership of the Clippers after 33 years without being accorded appellate review of this harsh result," Max Blecher and Bobby Samini, attorneys for Donald Sterling, issued a statement Wednesday night. "Nevertheless, we are confident Donald will be completely vindicated in his federal case against the NBA. More importantly, we believe that the "popular" ruling in the Probate matter is a serious blow to the Privacy rights for all Americans."
Ballmer is now the Clippers' primary owner after bidding a record $2 billion to purchase the franchise.
Ballmer's lawyer, Adam Streisand, issued a statement on Wednesday in light of Sterling's appeal denial.
"While we have no doubt Donald Sterling will appeal to the Supreme Court, we are beyond thrilled and gratified and supremely confident that this is now over and done and Steve Ballmer is the undisputed owner of the Los Angeles Clippers," Streisand said.
Those threats and the dark cloud of Donald Sterling’s ownership died on Tuesday when Steve Ballmer’s record $2 billion purchase of the Clippers was finalized and approved by the NBA. A day later, Ballmer was given his first schedule as an NBA owner when the league’s schedule was released.
Here are the 10 most intriguing matchups on the Clippers’ schedule for the upcoming season.
Oklahoma City Thunder at Clippers, Oct. 30: The Clippers’ season will begin much like it ended over five months ago -- at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Back then then the Clippers lost Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals and were eliminated from the playoffs, once again failing to get past the second round. If the Clippers are to get past the second round, not to mention past the conference finals and to the NBA Finals, the Clippers know they’ll have to find a way to get past OKC.
Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers, Oct. 31: Halloween Night will be the season’s first game of the “Hallway Series” with the Lakers playing host to the Clippers in the arena they both call home. The Lakers, needless to say, have dominated the series historically but the Clipper manhandled the Lakers last season after dropping the season opener to them. The Clippers beat the Lakers in their last three meetings by an average of over 35 points per game.
Golden State Warriors at Clippers, Dec. 25: For the second straight season and third time in the last four years the Clippers will play the Warriors on Christmas Night, but for the first time it will be in Los Angeles. Last season’s first round seven-game series between the Clippers and Warriors showed how intense this rivalry has become and if history is any indication this one won’t end without a skirmish or two.
Cleveland Cavaliers at Clippers, Jan. 16: LeBron James and the new-look Cavaliers will play the Clippers for the first time on the second night of a Cleveland back-to-back in L.A. Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul have developed a little rivalry at the point guard position as have Kevin Love and Blake Griffin at the power forward position, but the focus on this night will be on King James being on center stage in Hollywood.
New York Knicks at Clippers, Dec. 31: While the spotlight is usually on New York on New Year’s Eve, arguably the best show of the night will be in Los Angeles as Phil Jackson, Derek Fisher and Carmelo Anthony make their first trip to Los Angeles this season to play the Clippers with Lakers fans watching the Knicks’ trio, wondering what could have been.
San Antonio Spurs at Clippers, Nov. 10: The defending champion Spurs make their first trip to Los Angeles to play the Clippers early in the season. If the Clippers are to get over their second-round hump and become the team to beat in the West the Clippers will have to find a way to beat the gold standard of the conference for the past 15 seasons in the Spurs.
Clippers at Memphis Grizzlies, Nov. 23: Perhaps the biggest rival the Clippers have after playing them twice in the playoffs is the Grizzlies. The Clippers’ first game against the Grizzlies will take place in Memphis in the midst of a seven-game, 10-day road trip in November during the Thanksgiving holiday.
Clippers at Boston Celtics, Mar. 29: Doc Rivers already had his return trip to Boston last season after leaving the Celtics to become the Clippers’ coach but his last trip was so emotional, pushing him to tears before and after the game that any trip Rivers makes to his old home should be circled on the calendar.
Chicago Bulls at Clippers, Nov. 17: Outside of Cleveland, Chicago is the popular pick to come out of the East and play in the NBA Finals. The Clippers will get their first look at the Bulls in November as Pau Gasol makes his first trip back to Los Angeles since leaving the Lakers in the offseason.
Clippers at Phoenix Suns, Apr. 14: The Clippers will close out the season in Phoenix against the Suns. The nationally televised game could still help decide the Clippers' seeding in the playoffs and perhaps even the fate of the division. A big reason the Clippers have yet to make it out of the second round is they have never had home court advantage after the first round. That would change this season if the Clippers finish with one of the top two records in the conference.
Playoff rematches, star players returning from injuries and a heavy dose of the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers are among the highlights of the NBA's early schedule, the full version of which was released Wednesday.
The always-anticipated Christmas Day schedule includes LeBron James' return to Miami as the featured game at 5 p.m. ET on ABC, a renewal of the Western Conference finals with the Oklahoma City Thunder visiting the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs and a rivalry game between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers.
Perhaps the highlight of the schedule for players, though, is new commissioner Adam Silver's response to stars' request for a lengthier midseason break. Each team now will have a full week off around All-Star Weekend in February so players who take part in the events in New York still will receive some additional time off.
The season will open Tuesday, Oct. 28, with the traditional ring night ceremony as the Spurs host the Dallas Mavericks
When Blake Griffin withdrew from Team USA training camp and this summer’s FIBA World Cup, fleeting murmurs bubbled as to whether he played too concussive a style of basketball, whether this was the harbinger to his athletic deterioration. Is this the beginning of the end for Griffin and the Clippers?
It turns out that there was an answer; it was no. Griffin continued his offseason workout regimen, telling the Los Angeles Times, “It's less than a hairline, and my back is not fractured. Everything is still intact.” In a summary assessing the repercussions for Team USA, ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst went as far as to suggest that, while Griffin and the team are appropriately treading carefully with the injury, nearly 70 percent of big men growing up experience a fracture similar to the one Blake is rehabbing. This was more precaution than cautionary tale.
So it goes for the Clippers these days. For a franchise that has had its share of unusual occurrences, even in recent memory -- a water main bursting during a game in Memphis? -- unfortunate events most would attribute to “karma” or “luck” have had more logical explanations come to their defense. Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of the team’s two stars, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, who repeatedly claimed upon their arrival that the past was of no concern. Their ambition was to seize control of the future. It was an odd juxtaposition for a franchise that viewed fate as a four-letter word.
And yet here we are, a half-decade later with perceptions shifted and the couching and parsing of words to mitigate unreasonable speculation. The downplay of injury to a top-10 player on a contender. Nary a mention of the “Clippers curse.” Barely a whisper of such superstition in the past few years. In the span of marveling at in-air acrobatics to hating the team’s brashness to begrudgingly accepting their ability, the Clippers have inched further and further away from the self-defeating stigma and, frankly, excuses of a moribund franchise.
In fact, the du jour topic after last season was whether Griffin had quietly surpassed Paul as the best player on the team.
Now with Donald Sterling officially excised from the organization, any vestigial hexes have eroded and the Clippers are reborn in a new space: win (or lose) on their own terms.
Fans have observed a slow but methodical transformation: have a young star legitimize the team, bring in a superstar to introduce lofty aspirations, attract a championship-winning coach to validate those aspirations, inject stability via ownership swap. Star, coach, front office, owner; every component has been replaced and rejuvenated in the past four years. What else is there?
It’s a scary thing to have beaten a curse. Gone is the comforting “it’s the Clippers” catch-all. Banned is the caricature of a villain typically situated courtside -- although Shelly Sterling still retains her own set of courtside seats as a stipulation of the sale, and it seems she has every intent on using them. A goodbye wave to the perpetual anxiety cloud that floated over Staples Center, source of constant trepidation for fans, reminding them not to get their hopes up.
It’s always easy to find excuses for losing. And none of the changes guarantees the Clippers will win a championship. The only thing it means is they’re accountable for their own fate. Isn’t that all anyone really wants?
Andrew Han writes for ClipperBlog. Follow him @andrewthehan.