1:15 AM EDT, April 4, 2013
The Clippers are in trouble.
They got their 50th win of this storybook season Wednesday night, a franchise record, but internal problems seriously threaten their chances for extraordinary postseason success.
The feel-good Clippers are gone, with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin's immaturity dragging the team down.
Jordan wants nothing to do with Coach Vinny Del Negro because he blames Del Negro for burying him on the bench.
Yet Jordan's inability to play consistently or make free throws, thereby turning the ball over to the opposition much like a turnover, makes him a liability in close games.
Jordan sees it differently, and he has for the last two seasons, maintaining he would be more productive if allowed to play more.
He's as likable as they come and overloaded with athletic ability. But as an NBA starter on a team that wants to compete for championships, he's more cancer than consistent contributor while failing to justify what he's being paid.
He'll be unhappy to hear that, and he doesn't react well when not happy. But it's time to grow up as a professional.
Griffin is Jordan's buddy, and still a kid.
His development has been sabotaged by his inability to accept criticism of any sort.
It helps explain why he's always at odds with the referees. He's never done anything wrong, as he sees it, so why are they blowing a whistle and calling him out?
He takes a punishment when he plays, and right now he's playing hurt. But he reacts like a kid when done wrong, looking for the opportunity to get even while giving no regard to how that might affect his team's performance.
He wants the ball like any great player, but when it doesn't go to him, he pouts. He's 24. Most of the time the ball goes to Griffin, but he's concerned only about the times when it doesn't.
The Clippers' future success is tied to Griffin's becoming as mature as he is a high-flying superstar. It would be nice, maybe even vital to the team's success, if it happened overnight.
Griffin has already improved his game at the foul line and shooting from the outside. But he must do the same as a team player rather than aligning himself with the most disgruntled player on the team.
The other night in Sacramento, Griffin and Jordan exchanged words on the bench. Griffin told Jordan he best never again stare him down as he did when Griffin failed to give Jordan a good pass for a dunk.
Everyone else was left to sit there while waiting for the kids to stop bickering.
The pair have also grown tired of Chris Paul's voice, which is understandable at times.
Paul, very much like Kobe Bryant — who has turned off Dwight Howard with his out-of-this-world standards — is relentless. He never shuts up. And Jordan and Griffin have become weary of him.
When asked about being annoying, Paul smiled and said, "I need to work on being a better leader."
Had he avoided injuries, Chauncey Billups would have made a difference. He has the ability to get in the face of another player and demand more without turning them off. He doesn't chirp as much as Paul.
But he's also not playing for the Clippers these days or even practicing, yet another reason why the team is in trouble as it approaches the playoffs.
They need Billups, but at a level of play that Billups displayed before getting hurt a year ago.
Del Negro has done a masterful job for the most part in dealing with a deep team; everyone wants more playing time. But he's not a hand-holder. He's not big on sitting beside a player, throwing an arm around his shoulder and nursing hurt feelings.
He might want to develop a half-court offense that works, but that's a problem for another time.
The Clippers are fortunate because they have a number of veterans who understand what kind of effort the team will need once the playoffs begin.
But as much money as Jordan is making and as secure as Griffin is in being a NBA star, do any of the veterans have what it takes to get through to the immature twosome.
This should be one of the all-time joy rides in sports, the Clippers, the gawd-awful Clippers, going 16-0 in December and becoming the talk of the NBA.
They rocked the NBA world, but the buzz is gone.
And although it's true they have posted a record never seen before by Clippers fans, how do they get by the first round and then take on San Antonio or Oklahoma City while looking cross-eyed at each other inside a team huddle?
They don't, and so they have maybe two weeks to grow up and grow together as a team or this season of hoopla will have been much ado about nothing.
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