Are the Clippers a dysfunctional franchise? Bill Simmons thinks so


In case you missed it, on Tuesday, Bill Simmons went on a seven-tweet splurge suggesting the Los Angeles Clippers were one of the league’s most dysfunctional franchises.

This “tell-all,” ignited some heated discussion around the interwebs and beyond. Many defended the team, Steve Ballmer and Doc Rivers. In fact, Clippers and Fox Sports television play-by-play legend, Ralph Lawler, went after Bill Simmons during an interview via The Home Team with Marques Johnson and Jeanne Zelasko on the Beast 980:

"“I think Bill is between spotlights right now and is trying to say, ‘Hey, remember me?’ And trying to find some reason to develop some relevance once again in this interim period in his career path. It makes no sense at all to attack Steve Ballmer or the Clippers for anything they’ve done or not done.The Clippers are going to win a championship and that’ll shut up people like Bill Simmons with nothing else to talk about.”"

So what did Simmons say via Twitter that caused such an outrage?

The first tweet was rather ominous:

He certainly has a point there. From all accounts, Ballmer is a great guy to be around and exudes confidence in the organization. Donald Sterling was notorious for making insensitive remarks, evicting tenants in his buildings for shady purposes and of course the V. Stiviano tapes which lead to his eventual banishment from the NBA.

This seems like a reach, but Simmons begins to narrow his path in his next tweet:

Again, seems like a stretch, especially since Ballmer was the CEO of Microsoft for 13 years. He certainly knows how to be the head of an organization, but his role is a bit more diluted as owner of a franchise.

Furthermore, shouldn’t there be some kind of learning curve? After all, he did dive head-first into a completely new market and likely needs time to learn the ropes of running a successful organization.

However, some of Ballmer’s decisions thus far are certainly questionable.

His first move after purchasing the Clippers was giving Doc Rivers as much power as anyone in any NBA organization, not to mention a new $50 million contract.

Rivers was promoted to president of basketball operation in the wake of the Sterling scandal and banishment. When Ballmer bought the team, he allowed Rivers to stay in the same role, expecting him to run the organization as he saw fit.

The only other coach in the NBA with as much power is the Detroit Pistons’ Stan Van Gundy, who clearly used Rivers as an example to garner such control.

In fact, even the NBA’s best coach, Gregg Popovich, stepped down as general manager in 2002. He was able to focus more on coaching and game planning, allowing R.C. Buford to handle the general manager responsibilities. The two were able to work in synergy, identifying talent and fit together, instead of Popovich working the phones for trades, overseeing scouting or keeping an eye on the upcoming free agents.

Apr 26, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gives direction to his team against the Los Angeles Clippers in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Rivers is basically in charge of everything, which is good and bad. He knows what kind of players he wants to add to the roster, but he also has to focus on the day-to-day operations and manage the team on and off the floor. It seems like a complicated role, considering he has to balance the immediate goals with future opportunities. Building a team to win now, but also developing the future.

No move stood out more during this time than Ballmer signing off on Rivers dealing Jared Dudley and the team’s 2017 first-round pick to the Milwaukee Bucks for  Carlos Delfino and Miroslav Raduljica.

The Clippers were up against the hard cap and needed to clear salary in order to afford enough players to fill out the roster. Dudley had a poor season during his only year with the team, but was also consistently injured and never able to heal. As a result, Rivers used the stretch provision on Delfino and Raduljica. This allowed him to stretch their cap hit over five years, free two roster spots and free up $3.5 million to fill out the roster.

The move was a huge gamble at the time and still proves to be one of the NBA’s worst trades of the last few seasons, as Dudley rebounded to have a good year with the Bucks. Meanwhile, the Clippers were desperate for anyone who could play small forward.

Additionally, some of Rivers’ signings were baffling as well. He used the open roster spots on Chris Douglas-Roberts and  Ekpe Udoh. Douglas-Roberts was eventually packaged in January with 2013 first-round pick Reggie Bullock for Austin Rivers. Udoh played 128 minutes and is now out of the league.

Quite the string of questionable moves.

Simmons did not go into detail, but it is easy to assume some of what he is suggesting.

After the Clippers collapsed during Game 7  of the Western Conference Semifinals, a story broke from Fox Sports about a rift between DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul.

"“Sources say Paul’s well-known edginess and drive ground on Jordan’s nerves for much of the year. Contributing to the problem was Paul’s view that Jordan lacked the appropriate commitment to working on his free throws, including not working enough with the Clippers shooting coach on that issue, sources said.‘Things aren’t good there,’ a league source familiar with the inner workings of the Clippers organization said. Asked if the issues between the two were serious, the source said, ‘Oh yeah. (Jordan) might leave. He really might.”"

We all know what happened nearly two months later; Jordan indeed left.

The next turn of events was shocking. Jordan began to waiver on his decision and the Clippers swooped in to ease his concerns and eventually re-sign him.

First of all, how many feuds go public, resulting in a key member of a championship-caliber team leaving for a lesser one? Of those, how many players changed their minds and backed out of a “verbal” agreement to return to the team they spurned?

There certainly seems to be a level of dysfunction going on in and around the franchise. But how much and does it even register as worrisome?

This tweet is likely to have Clippers fans either wearing tinfoil hats or throwing produce at Simmons the next time they see him. It hints that there is more to the dysfunction than the public knows. It also could mean Simmons is attempting to drive up his audience with a move to HBO looming this fall, the likely implementation of a .com platform to write for again and, oh yeah, the return of his podcast on October 1.

However, he really drove home a spike when he sent out his last tweet on the subject:

Now THAT drew plenty of ire from Clippers and NBA fans alike.

Why would anyone consider the Clippers as dysfunctional as the Sacramento Kings (who might be growing tired of George Karl after 30 games and traded the Philadelphia 76ers their 2018 first-round pick and the right to swap firsts with the Kings in both 2016 and 2017 for cap space they used to sign Rajon Rondo) and the Charlotte Hornets (turned down a reported six draft picks for the No. 10 pick, let Bismack Biyombo walk, dealt Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson to the Portland TrailBlazers for one year of Nicolas Batum and are still stuck as a late lottery and first-round playoff team with no direction)?

Those wearing tinfoil hats will also point to the Clippers’ meltdown against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2014 playoffs and the disaster that was Games 5, 6 and 7 against the Houston Rockets with a trip to the franchise’s first conference finals all but locked up.

The latest development involves a fine from the Clippers’ free agency pitch to Jordan:

While this seems rather petty, especially with the deep pockets of Ballmer, it violates the most basic CBA rule there is.

Teams cannot circumvent the salary cap, which is exactly what this pitch suggested. In the grand scheme of things, it obviously had nothing to do with Jordan returning to the Clippers. However, the fact this was actually presented with a dollar amount and company is as bone-headed a move as there is. How someone in the organization thought this was a good idea is beyond me, especially when you KNOW Jordan’s agent has a history of steering his clients to Marc Cuban’s Mavericks.

So are the Clippers a dysfunctional franchise? Yeah, based upon the results on and off the floor the last two seasons.

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However, are they any more dysfunctional than most teams with a new owner and president of basketball operations? What could possibly put them in the same realm as the Kings and Hornets? Especially after having one of the best offseasons in team history, completely revamping one of the league’s worst benches and transforming into one of the league’s elite.

There is plenty to be upset about if you are a Clippers fan. Playoff failures, team rifts, giving away future assets for nothing. Perhaps Rivers has too much on his plate to effectively run the front office and coach the team on the floor. Maybe Ballmer is in over his head and needs time to gauge the situation he stepped into.

While the franchise does seem somewhat dysfunctional and not operating at peak levels, to compare a title contender with one of the most inept and unsuccessful franchises (Kings) this decade is mind-blowing. Either Simmons has a scoop that he has yet to reveal, or he is overreacting to the problems which have plagued the organization recently.

Next: Analyzing Wesley Johnson's potential with the Clippers