The Clippers’ year ended on Saturday when none of them showed up to a loss to the Nuggets, they’ll still play a few more games but 2017-18 is over and this is one of the best things to happen to its season.
The Lakers’ season hasn’t ended, it never does, the team has been out of the playoffs for a few weeks but you’ll hear about Josh Hart for months because that’s how gold works. The Lakers are goofy, now, they take chances to distract you from that munitions storage full of dry powder and thick Converse leather.
Neither team will be in the postseason, that last happened in 2005. This is the first time in the social media age that L.A. hasn’t had a single playoff entry, since Frank Hamblen and Yaroslav Korolev, and the NBA will get by just fine in its absence.
That doesn’t mean months that months in Los Angeles work the same as they do in any other city, the towns that Magic Johnson felt no need to run, the spaces where Lawrence Frank would fit in kindly.
Lakers brass have developed something once considered preposterous – a strain of patience and reflective calm among Laker fans. The Clippers are getting by on all that culture creation chat that Steve Ballmer outlined with a cannon on Conan, that Frank talked about with Woj. For once, Los Angeles isn’t sticking its tongue down anyone’s throat, not even when talking out of the side of its mouth.
That doesn’t mean they’ll be any good at basketball soon, let alone great, but at least we’ve been given assurances that there is someone behind that door handle and that, we promise, they really are on the phone.Brook Lopez doesn’t need head shots, all you have to do is miss him with a high-five or whistle him for a foul that he doesn’t deserve or play a song he hasn’t heard in a few years. The dude’s mug is proof enough that he can cry on command or play anywhere from 22-through-39 or whatever made-up high school Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum visit next.
Lopez could also play this sport in any language, all he does is box out for others and pop for scores after the ball misses his hands for quarters at a time.
He’s a champion teammate on this club even though every bit of Brook should be the last thing a group like the Lakers should look for. Lopez is the all-time scorer from a bad Brooklyn team, an anachronistic plaything that half the league already comes in angry at: Brook hurt most of these kids, badly, when they lined up to play against his pushover Nets in a video game from 2012.
For the cynics, he’s around for the same reason Channing Frye is. For the same side benefit that Isaiah Thomas briefly provided: Los Angeles needed veterans to make its home arena palatable to even the most agreeable of its rational followers, the ones that also wanted to clear cap space for this summer.
The Lakers are the franchise that lured Kareem and drafted a deal for Shaq, but they’re also the offices that LaMarcus Aldridge said ‘no’ to, twice, and Greg Monroe might finish his career by playing for every other NBA team but the Lakers.
They have an agent for a GM and the best point guard to ever play the game as the presiding president and absolutely no guarantees beyond that (beyond whatever Paul George already agreed to). Worse, on too many NBA evenings this season LeBron James got to watch Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid thrash an opponent in a state just one away from his, long before Lonzo Ball and 10:30 even got the chance to put a shot up.
LeBron’s big enough to stay up to notice the stuff that Ball doesn’t get to do and how the rookie handles it, he’s rooting for Lonzo same as we all are, and this is part of the reason Magic may walk up to the plate this summer without any interest in taking the bat off his shoulder.
The Lakers don’t need to, the best of this team won’t hit until far after Paul George’s NBA heft has its way, these current rookies will be at their best around the same time James hits 40.
The full flip of this recognition tells you that Lonzo and Hart and Kyle Kuzma and whomever else won’t be much championship help as George considers his immediate legacy, as LeBron scans the floor for hips to grind with. You also get the feeling that Magic Johnson wants to turn that concern into someone else’s.
A so-so Laker season still outlasted the investment that more than one television network put in on Lonzo’s family – flying journalists to far-flung lands for a blockquote, tilting that day’s programming toward anything but the game itself – proving yet again that the collective holds greater power than the loud, semi-collected thoughts of an individual.
Lonzo’s year was fine, and it was good that he wasn’t fully handed the keys: Jason Kidd took 400 three-pointers in his second season during the lone year of Dick Motta’s mobocracy. Two other coaches tried to sell JK a triangle offense featuring two ball-stopping, page-ignoring, non-shooters in Jim Jackson and Jamal Mashburn.
It’s important that Ball wasn’t fully allowed to cash on his gifts, as if the NBA needed any more talent around in the first place. Instead, Ball got to use the season as a sprint, a practice precursor set to discover if the 20-year old could still name today’s date and his mother’s maiden name after being run through the ringer.
The Lakers aren’t just another basketball team, and yet they got away with mostly acting like one this year. Even when it ducked into the room where LeBron James was glowering, back in February, before yanking Isaiah Thomas out. Luke Walton has to pay more attention to his timeouts, but you wouldn’t turn down the chance to talk to these guys, either.
Doc Rivers is a better coach than Luke Walton for a lot of reasons, chief of which is (always) experience, but thank goodness Doc wasn’t the one to coach Lonzo Ball this season. Rivers, burdened by the weight of all he knows, would have tried to fix Lonzo. The talks would have gone on forever. There’s a reason you never actually grew up to hang out with the principal that was pretty OK.
Doc doesn’t do rebuilds, he shouldn’t have to because he’s such a damn good coach, and so far the Clippers aren’t interested in one. They’ve learned from the Lakers, flatmates since the fin de siècle, that bottoming out only brings in one savior at a time. That few 82-game hauls are worth that shot, at least in this city. Lunch lasts forever.
The Clipper situation is not great, for this town or any other, one in 100 NBA fans has ever heard of Tyrone Wallace and yet Los Angeles can’t afford to keep him. At least Clipper development is creating a luxury problem, though, that’s basketball progress.
Everyone fell hard and the team should have known better: Patrick Beverley’s knee finally gave out, Avery Bradley’s shoulder came off and Danilo Gallinari’s body is so wrecked that the only thing he hasn’t used this year – his shooting hand – will keep him out of the last week of the season.
The Clippers took a chance, though. The team dove in on the idea that Blake Griffin could have the 2017 summer to settle himself in advance of a comeback year, Chris Paul’s departure brought in gobs of good depth after NBA laughed at the Clippers for years for falling four strings shy of a workable mandolin.
A big year for Blake, paired with a slate of unsustainable seasons from a batch of feel-good faces? It scans. This league routinely highlights far more unlikely stories, and this is still the same city that produced The Two Jakes.
Doc wants a family, here, there’s a reason why Mike Woodson and Sam Cassell get to run timeouts like they lead the branch, and there’s a reason why Austin Rivers gets the sternest stuff. Austin understands a language that we don’t, he’ll be good for this for as long as the Clippers keep him and his father at the same address, because a pair like this should not be separated.
Some people that knew who they were set fire to their house in 1997. People burned their goddamn house down after learning who lived inside of it, and Doc and Austin have been wandering the grocery aisles (apart) for two decades trying to figure out why. The only way they’re ever going to get through this is at each other’s side, snappy and shitty and shrugging, never any satisfaction from the person on the receiving end of those upturned hands.
So the team didn’t go on a winning streak at home, so it didn’t extend its chances beyond a sulky Saturday afternoon and an indefensible loss to the Denver gotdamn Nuggets. Nobody needed this year to move beyond Wednesday.
Tobias Harris did not react well to being traded to the Clippers, he cannot continue to let the frustration of the sight of his ceiling alter the impact of the good things he already does. DeAndre Jordan is a mensch that deserves to regain ubiquity on his terms, rather than ours. Montrezl Harrell is his Scrappy-Doo, with all the better lines.
Boban Marjanovic is everyone’s favorite player because we’ve all watched what he can create, with that skill and then size, his limitations only help to personalize basketball for us. In a culture that can’t stop calling grown men “son,” Marjanovic turns each playable minute into our own time on the bleachers in khakis. Pretending to watch the game, when we’re really just paying attention to him.
Whatever the impetus, Los Angeles is still a city that demands different rules – that was the case during Donald Sterling’s most anonymous skulks to the office, and even with the Lakers’ brief run of mediocrity at the Forum.
It won’t ever be the same rebuilding there, the Jim Buss era exhibited yet again the town’s continued excellence at enfeeblement inside of a room that’s already been paid for, as did Doc’s attempt to salute stardom through one tiny contract exemption at a time.
What passes for basketball, though, will take character. This season revealed that Los Angeles is, by some ages-old function of its water department, somehow out ahead of everyone else.