My Clippers season tickets just arrived in the mail. It’s Year 7 for your friend Simmons. I always made fun of the saps who kept sending the Clippers money, claimed that “I just want to see the other teams,” then secretly pined for a good Clippers team so the tickets would be a good investment. Now? I guess I am one of those saps.
Normally when you spend seven years with something — anything — your memory gravitates towards the more fun moments (even if there weren’t that many). With the Clippers? You think of the bad stuff. Like the 58 times they lost at the buzzer because Corey Maggette or Marko Jaric forced a terrible shot in traffic. Like the time Latrell Sprewell F-bombed a woman behind Minnesota’s basket, then the F-bomb resonated through the half-empty stands like a bomb explosion. Like Mike Dunleavy dusting off an ice-cold Steve Novak to spread the floor on the final possession of a game, followed by Novak hurriedly stretching as all the people in my section shook their heads in disgust. Like the five pathetic lottery seasons in which they were finished by February and I couldn’t even give my seats away.
Actually, why did I renew my tickets again?
(Scratching my head.)
Oh, yeah! Blake Griffin!
Call me a sucker, call me a fool. I don’t care. Griffin cannot be hyped enough. He’s already one of the best five power forwards in the league. (I have him behind Dirk, Bosh and Gasol and tied with an aging Duncan.) He would have been the third-best player on Team USA in August had the Americans included him. He’s already (A) the best finisher of any big guy in the league, (B) the second-best rebounder in the league behind Dwight Howard, and (C) someone who flies around so recklessly that you constantly worry he might break his leg, his back, his neck there’s just nobody else like him right now. You can’t keep your eyes off him.
Vegas lists him at 2-1 for rookie of the year, which would be the decade’s single biggest gambling bargain if, you know, Blake Griffin didn’t play for the most cursed franchise in the league. In a perfect world, he’ll stay healthy, crash the boards with Chris Kaman, master the high screen with Eric Gordon (who had a breakout summer for Team USA) and lead the Clippers to an improbable playoff spot. Everything hinges on Baron Davis, the overpaid local star who feeds off the crowd and the situation. Here are the three Baron recipes:
“Bad crowd” + “hopeless situation” = “Baron checks out.”
Stops driving to the basket, launches bad 3s, lets petty agendas determine his play. I will forgive him at some point for occasionally freezing out Gordon last season — a gifted offensive player, someone who always plays hard, and someone who played one-on-one defense against Kobe better than anyone I saw all season except for “Trick Or Treat” Tony Allen. By the way, “Checks Out” Baron launched 296 3s last year and missed 73 percent of them. Indefensible.
“Good crowd” + “hopeless situation” = “Baron might show up.”
His two best games of last year? Home wins during sellouts against the Celtics (24 points, 13 assists, game-winning shot) and Lakers (25 points, 10 assists). Not a coincidence. This is why I thought New York should have pursued Baron this past summer: He feeds off the crowd. Watch the highlights from those two glorious Golden State years, specifically the home playoff games against Dallas and Utah in 2007. Just watch the iconic Kirilenko dunk. This isn’t someone meant to play in half-filled arenas for people half-heartedly looking through their BlackBerrys.
“Good crowd” + “good situation” = “Baron will show up.”
And he will. So that’s the hope: good crowd, good situation. The past three seasons were miserable, personified by the time last winter when I asked my daughter to come with me and she responded, “I don’t want to go; it makes me sad.” I don’t think she’ll be sad this season.
The tickets arrived this week. I share them with my friend Tollin, a Philly fan who goes for the other teams (like me, and like half the people who own Clippers tickets). Usually we e-mail each other “Games That I Want To See” and “Games That I Know I Can’t Go To” lists. That got me thinking what if you ranked every team from No. 1 to No. 30 simply by the question, “How much do I want to see that team in person this season?”
One disclaimer: I am not a discerning audience. There will almost always be a reason I’d want to see an NBA team once. This year, there were four “I ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO GO TO THAT GAME!” teams and two “I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT WANT TO GO TO THAT GAME” teams. Everyone else fell in between. Without further ado, this year’s Season Ticket Rankings.
THE ABSOLUTE MUST-SEES
My team. ‘Nuff said. By the way, Rondo is someone who absolutely, positively needs to be seen in person. He will do two or three things per game that have no relation to anything else that happens at any level of basketball. And if you don’t think he’ll be playing with an Eff You edge after not making Team USA this summer, you’re crazy.
Not since the ’96 Bulls have I been this excited to see a non-Boston team in person. Look, “The Decision” is dead and buried. It’s over. Time to start thinking about hoops. And the following things are in play.
A. Only three other times (Baylor and West, Jordan and Pippen, Shaq and Kobe) have two of the league’s best four players been teammates.
B. Not since 1975 (Havlicek, Cowens, White) has a team placed three players on the All-NBA first or second teams. I don’t think Bosh is one of the 10 best players in basketball, but playing with Wade and James? Possibly. Open look after open look after open look. He might be a 27-12 guy this year.
C. We might have our first basketball villains since the Bad Boy Pistons. People will either love rooting against this team or will jump on the bandwagon for the same reason wrestling fans rooted for the nWo and music lovers attached themselves to NWA and Tupac. You will have an opinion either way.
D. We have no idea how Wade and LeBron will co-exist. None. Watching LeBron in the preseason, he seems intent on reinventing his game — posting up more, handling the ball on fast breaks, being more of a facilitator — and that’s fine, but I want to see whether he’s still interested in doing that when they’re down by one with 20 seconds left and Erik Spoelstra tells everyone to clear out for Dwyane Wade. These are the things you can’t totally figure out until you watch a team in person — not just the 48 minutes of game time but the way it interacts during timeouts, free throws, halftime, everything.
E. This summer changed LeBron. Not exactly a news flash, I know. But he’s carrying himself differently; how that manifests itself within the confines of his game will be, at least for me, the single most intriguing subplot of the season. Pre-Decision LeBron played with a larger-than-life, happy-go-lucky swagger. Post-Decision LeBron is all business. There’s an edge to him. He’s playing angry. You can see it.
Twenty years ago, Isiah’s Pistons beat up Jordan, broke him and pushed him to something of a dark place. Worn down by falling short, he took out his frustrations on his teammates, his coaches, other teams, everybody. When he finally prevailed in 1991, he maintained that Eff You edge for another two seasons, felt it slipping away, fled for Double-A baseball, felt it coming back, got embarrassed in the Orlando series, rededicated himself that summer, then Eff You’d everyone for another three titles. I know it’s early, but LeBron looks to me like he’s in full-fledged, unequivocal Eff You Mode. Can he harness it like Jordan did? This will be either the best thing that happened to LeBron’s career or the worst. With no in-between. I cannot wait to see LeBron James in person this season.
3. Oklahoma City
Or Durant. My favorite player in the league.
Three things to follow with KD this season. First, Russell Westbrook made a leap of sorts this summer — by the end of the world championships, he was Team USA’s second-best player — which can only help Durant’s progress as the GATH (a cousin to the GOAT, the acronym here is for “Greatest At This Hour”). He might be playing with the best under-25 guard in basketball for all we know. Second, don’t sleep on rookie Cole Aldrich — he sets great picks, rolls to the rim, crashes the offensive boards and knows where to be. Durant hasn’t had someone setting him a decent pick at any point in his career. Now he does.
Third, you can’t overstate how much the Team USA experience helped Durant: not just succeeding as The Guy and carrying the Americans those last few games but also just getting coached. Durant’s rebounding and defense look to be miles ahead of where they were the previous couple of years; he’s a legitimate 4 now in today’s NBA. You could say he graduated from Coach K Camp. (And if you want to make a mean Rick Barnes joke, you could say that it was his first experience with a real college coach.) As an all-around player, Durant looks as if he climbed a level from last year when all he did was average 30 points a game and finish second in the MVP voting. So yeah.
4. L.A. Lakers
Removing all the usual reasons (Kobe always shows up, Gasol is fun to watch, Artest is crazy, etc.), the Lakers-Clips crowds are especially charged because Lakers fans swarm those games, lending an undeniable big brother/little brother edge to the proceedings. Back in 2006, I described it like this:
“Clippers fans hate Lakers fans with a passion, but Lakers fans dismiss Clippers fans and take condescending approaches like ‘It’s cute that you guys support such a joke of a franchise’ and ‘It’s cute that you guys think this is the year that the Clippers won’t fall apart,’ which drives Clippers fans even crazier than they already are. You know those college cities where the townies detest the rich kids from campus, or a multicollege city where the kids from the less-respected college openly loathe the kids from the well-respected college a few miles away? That’s how the Clippers fans feel about the Lakers fans. Pure hatred.”
Love the energy for these games. Love it.
GETTING YOUR MONEY’S WORTH
Sixty wins, a No. 2 seed and Boston will kick their asses again in Round 2. Sound familiar? Only one thing intrigues me even a little about the 2010-11 Magic compared with the 2009-10 Magic: this clip of Dwight Howard attending Hakeem The Dream Camp. Watch the whole thing if you have time.