Quality of play is down. Shooting percentages are down. Scoring is down. The Clippers are down.
If nothing else, the NBA is a league of trends, and its bete noir is again holding its own at the bottom of an ever-deepening barrel. The Clippers have involuntarily embarked on a possibly historic campaign, one that is again raising questions about the way Los Angeles's "other team" (read: not for NBC) functions.
Boston has a minor investment in this year's team: its coach. Chris Ford is now patrolling the sidelines for a team that is finding it difficult to get even a single win. Ford has yet to reach for the hemlock or the sharp objects in his rented Redondo Beach house, but even he wasn't prepared for an 0-14 start.
"I knew what I was getting into," said Ford, a reference to the ongoing chaos that has enveloped the Clippers in the immovable personas of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, also known as owner Donald Sterling, henchman Andy "He Must Have Incriminating Polaroids" Roeser, and general manager Elgin "I Was A Great Player" Baylor. "But you always think that when you take a job, you can make a difference."
John Wooden couldn't make a difference with this team. The management troika seems to survive all the carnage while Hall of Fame coaches such as Larry Brown and Bill Fitch get exasperated and either leave or are fired. Ford is simply the latest human sacrifice who deserves better, but is getting what everyone else figured he'd get.
He inherited a horrible team (17-65) that brought just about everyone back and added no one of consequence other than No. 1 pick Michael Olowokandi. Baylor and Roeser have deftly maneuvered the roster in such a way that three of their best players, Lamond Murray, Lorenzen Wright, and Rodney Rogers, as well as some others who play critical roles, all are free agents at the end of the season.
And they know what happens to Clipper free agents: They always end up somewhere else. Always. The latest to leave were Ike Austin and Loy Vaught, and the year before it was Bo Outlaw. The Clippers have a rich, unblemished history of never re-signing their own. Austin never even considered them. Outlaw took less money to go to Orlando. This year's soon-to-be-freebies know they will not be back, and that makes it impossible for a coach to establish any type of a team concept.
Rogers, for instance, showed he was a team guy by reporting to camp 40 pounds overweight. Wright, who everyone agrees has potential, is already seeing himself as a $60 million player. And the Clippers' best player, Maurice Taylor, is a free agent at the end of next season. Think he'll sign an extension this week before the deadline?
This is the mess that Ford inherited. He said he went into the job assuming "they don't know anything," and he was surprised to learn that he was right.
"There's plenty of teaching going on," Ford said. "You just hope some of it would sink in. These guys can't do it on their own and they have to understand that they have to play in a system, particularly on defense. When is the light bulb going to turn on? It's not rocket science. It's simple rotations."
Ford has taken to juggling the lineup, giving time to the younger players who work in practice. He's without Olowokandi now; the big guy has a sprained ankle. Olowokandi was the second No. 1 overall pick for the Clippers (Danny Manning was the other), and he is far from polished, which makes his adjustment even more difficult.
"He's a young, raw talent," Ford said. "He doesn't know the game yet. Everything is still new to him. But he does have a great jump hook when he moves to the middle, and that's a real strength. He's also not afraid to bang and go for a rebound. But he's still young in terms of knowledge, like illegal defenses, rotations, things like that."
Olowokandi and the new Staples Center, which opens next year, represent the dim lights at the end of the never-ending tunnel. The real tragedy is that the NBA doesn't take the team by eminent domain on the grounds of extreme cruelty. There's always been a proviso to any team out West that is having its troubles: Thank God for the Clippers.
It has never been truer than the present, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the past.