Clips’ New Dynamic Needed for Title

LOS ANGELES — It was DeAndre Day in L.A., right down to a big birthday bash Tuesday night.

On a stage filled with newcomers, including Paul Pierce and Josh Smith, DeAndre Jordan was the star of a news conference at Staples Center, and he was the reason it was broadcast on NBA TV.

And you heard it in both the questions and the answers: Jordan now holds and will continue to hold increased power in the Los Angeles Clippers hierarchy.

Errantly but effectively, he forced the club to consider life without him.

The star who possesses the greatest power, though, is always the one who is next up with the option to leave the franchise hanging.

Blake Griffin and Chris Paul can both opt out of their contracts in 2017, yet only one of those guys will be in his utter prime and is therefore the person the Clippers are abundantly aware they can’t afford to lose.

The fact that Griffin and Jordan are such buddies—Griffin noted in his Players’ Tribune article that he and Jordan “text every day“—only reinforces that the era of CP3 ruling the Clippers is already over.

And that is the only way, frankly, that the Clippers can become ready to be NBA champions.

Say what you want about their depth, their defense or their racist prior owner. The bottom line: The mix just hasn’t been quite right for the Clippers to this point, in large part because Paul is such a dominant personality (with a dominant game to back it up).

His whining bred a whining team. His pace limited the team’s pace. His public displays of frustration created a sense of negativity and entitlement for a franchise that, like Paul, has never won a second-round playoff series.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Even with his unwavering commitment to Paul, head coach Doc Rivers has chipped away the past two years at the team dominance Paul established under Vinny Del Negro. The pace has picked up, Griffin’s evolution was on display in the last postseason, and now Jordan’s free-agency about-face places the onus on Paul to make sure he’s the best, most even-keel, least stressed-out teammate he can be.

This is how it has to be for any team to flourish: The team’s stars have to find a sweet spot of mutual respect—and stay there throughout the ups and downs.

All over the NBA, there are teams with three top players pondering how best to make it work.

Can Kevin Love find a proper place behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving? Does Billy Donovan have the magic touch with Kevin DurantRussell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka? How much will the individual egos of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green swell with success?

The Clippers can see how on the horizon. It’s so clear now that it practically has a capital C the size of the club’s big new logo.

Jordan wants a little more appreciation, Paul can’t choke-hold his way to a championship, and Griffin has to seize all the greatness and power at his fingertips.

That’s why Rivers has called that wild July 8 day at Jordan’s Houston home a wonderful team-bonding experience. It wasn’t a hostage situation; it was more like a playdate for these grown men, eating food ordered by Jordan’s mom and understanding they have very different voices but appreciating how simple it can be to feel united by their will to win.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

And if Griffin, Jordan and Paul lose sight of that, now there is Pierce around to remind them. He was at the July 8 playdate, too, just the beginning of his role as the mentor.

Paul had to be the mentor by default in the past. Now there is Pierce, seven years older and with a ring to prove he is wiser.

As Pierce spoke on the stage Tuesday, Rivers couldn’t help nodding off-camera as he heard Pierce’s spot-on words predicting his impact: “A team leader, on or off the court. I feel like I can kind of just be that glue guy.”

As much credit as Rivers gets for overseeing the Boston Celtics to the 2007-08 title, Pierce is the star who lived it with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

As far as Big Threes go, those Boston veterans, all hungry to win but with plenty in the tank, formed the ideal crew to share a vision.

It’s not quite so straightforward for the Clippers, but these three have reached a point where they’ve failed enough after regular-season success that they are ready to do whatever it takes.

And what Griffin and Jordan have learned is that Paul’s way isn’t worth it if they’re not going to win it all.

The burden lies with Griffin more than anyone else to establish what will be in the air for this new era.

He is an intelligent, hard-working person who has said in the past that he lets the makeup of the team determine what he accents in his individual season. The improvements in his game have nevertheless been obvious.

A valid question can be raised about whether he is inherently assertive enough to take what is now rightfully his and wield that power for a greater good. The new era requires that Griffin be more of a leader.

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