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Grizzles Vs. Clippers - In Which We Ask The "Enemy"

I had the great pleasure of taking a few moments to pick the brain of the great Los Angeles Clippers blogger Steve Perrin on the happenings in and around Clipperland. As always, Steve provided great perspective on the Clippers, who are going through a bit of a coaching quandary right now, and even weighed in on the Jason Smith hate going on in Los Angeles right now -- or, believe it or not, the lack thereof. Check out his insight, after the jump!

And in turn, check out Clips Nation to see the answers I gave to his questions on the Grizzlies!

TL: Naturally there's no debate, you take the superstar player (Chris Paul) over the head coach (Vinny Del Negro) 100 times out of 100, but while all this "losing the locker room" talk has fallen squarely on the shoulders of Vinny Del Negro (and his job certainly seems in jeopardy), do you worry about what this might do to Chris Paul's relationship as it stands with the team/fans/non-fans? I'm just thinking about the heat that Carmelo Anthony has taken in the Knicks coaching saga, and some of the heat that Dwight Howard felt as he's failed time after time to come to the defense of Stan Van Gundy. While the players generally always win out in these situations, what, if any, concern might you have about how this ordeal could turn on Paul?

SP: Paul gets a free pass on the Vinny situation. Whether VDN is solely responsible for everything that is wrong with the Clippers (and obviously he's not -- coaches simply don't have THAT much influence, for good or for ill), the perception is that he's a terrible coach and the wrong guy for the job, and let's face it, perception is reality (or it might as well be). He was a bad hire in July 2010, and he hasn't gotten better. Importantly though, the situation has changed. Vinny took over a team that had won 29 games, and his only job was to nurture and develop Blake Griffin and some other young players. Expectations on the whole were so low that Vinny wasn't really in much danger of falling short. That all changed when they traded for Paul. On December 15 the Clippers became the latest edition of a super team with two or more mega-stars, and expectations went from molehill to mountain. I'm not sure why the Clippers hired VDN in the first place, but clearly he was overmatched by the new situation -- again, in the public perception at the very least.

So Paul takes no heat on any coaching change at this point (and by the way, I'm far from convinced that the Clippers will pull the trigger). He might deserve to take some heat for some inconsistent play, or for passivity early in ball games, or for lackluster defense, but for being the guy who perhaps forced VDN out? He'll be a hero to the Citizens of Clips Nation for that one. I suppose he could take some heat as just another spoiled superstar to an external audience, but I've long since stopped worrying and/or trying to understand how fans of other teams view the Clippers. This isn't Stan Van Gundy we're talking about here. VDN hasn't really done much that warrants defending (and yet for the most part the Clipper players have gone out of their way to support him in public).

TL: Locker room issues aside, the Clippers are 6-9 this month and currently in that bunched up pack in the middle of the Western Conference playoff hunt (along with the Grizzlies). We can certainly place some blame on the coach, but in basketball terms, what's gone wrong? It can't only be the off-the-court dissension, can it?
SP: There's a brand of scapegoating that blames everything on the coach. Bad defense? His defensive schemes aren't sophisticated. Bad offense? His play calling is too predictable. Bad shooting? The bad offense isn't generating open looks. Poor effort? He doesn't motivate the players, they're not ready to play, he's lost the locker room. Injuries? He wears the players out with his rotations. Bad free throw shooting? This one's hard to figure, but I'm absolutely certain that it too is VDN's fault.

The reality is that it can't possibly all be the coach's fault -- at least I don't think reasonable people can believe that. The defense has been terrible all season, and has been particularly bad of late -- and some of that is coaching, but the majority of it is focus and effort (which sure, you can blame to some extent on the coach as well). But the biggest difference between the January Clippers who were beating the Lakers and the Heat and the Thunder and leading the Pacific Division, and the March Clippers who lose to bad teams and are plummeting down the ranks of the Western Conference standings is that the March Clippers can't shoot. The Clippers have shot 41% or worse in seven of 15 games in March -- they had one such ice cold game in January. Did VDN cause Caron Butler and Mo Williams to suddenly become incapable of making shots?

TL: The Clippers made a move at the deadline in getting Nick Young from the Wizards. What are your thoughts on that deal? And, am I crazy to wonder if while this deal seems like a win for the Clippers -- in terms of talent for talent -- was there any concern about Young coming from a highly dysfunctional team to your team? (Not saying that he's come in and caused any trouble, but was just curious if there was ever any thought about this deal and how it may factor into team chemistry).
SP: Getting Nick Young for Brian Cook and a second round pick in 2015 is an absolute steal. It's a no brainer. The Clippers had a glaring need on their roster for a guard with good size, and Young is that. The fact that he is also a legitimate NBA talent is all upside on the trade.
Yes, he came from a dysfunctional four plus years with the Wizards, and yes he's had his share of chucklehead moments. But this is an extremely low risk acquisition. Young will no doubt be on his best behavior, having gotten the equivalent of a get out of jail free guard with a trade from the Wizards to his home town Clippers.

The funny thing is, the Clippers talked really big about 'character' last season. We're doing this the right way, we're going to win with character guys, that sort of thing. Well, now that they've actually got a chance to win, I mean a real chance to make some noise, those character arguments go out the window. Reggie (Nutcracker) Evans, Kenyon Martin -- come join us provided you can help win some games. They were desperate to get J.R. Smith but missed out. Compared to J.R. Smith, any potential chemistry or character issues with Nick Young are a non-consideration. Last year it was all about character (and let me tell you, Ryan Gomes is a GREAT guy). Now, it's just win, baby.

TL: OK, so, be honest, is Jason Smith the most hated man in Clipper-land right now? I'll tell you that even as a Grizzlies fan I was pretty offended by that shoulder! Wrap him up if you must, but, wow.

SP: Jason Smith? Not even close. He barely cracks the top 10 on my list. Look, Blake has been getting roughed up for two seasons now. He rubs many players (especially veterans it seems) the wrong way, he tends to put people on posters in unflattering poses, he transforms guys names into verbs (no one wants to be Mozgoved) -- and he can't make a friggin' free throw. He's a hard foul magnet. As an opposing big playing Blake Griffin, you are simply not doing your job if you're not hitting him -- hard -- multiple times in a game. It's not right, and it's not good, but it's reality. And the league can't possibly put an end to it. The only one who can change this is Blake himself -- first and foremost by becoming a 75% free throw shooter. There's WAY too much incentive to lay him out when he's shooting 54% from the line. When it becomes likely that he'll still get two points at the line after a foul, then it will change the calculus for defenders -- suddenly, the extra personal foul and the possibility of a flagrant/ejection/suspension won't be worth it. The best way to stay off the poster at that point will be to get out his way. But until he starts making his free throws, he's the 'perfect storm' of hard fouls.

As for Smith, when I watched that play in real time, I felt certain it must have been an accident. I thought surely Smith just got going too fast, didn't realize he was heading for a collision, tried to stop and couldn't -- something. It never occurred to me that he would body check Griffin. But on the replays, that's exactly what he did. But there's a part of me that still gets it. Every team game plans a strategy of fouling Griffin. When faced with a Griffin dunk, if you can stop it, you stop it and make him earn the points at the line. So Smith knew that's what he was supposed to do in this situation. But running full speed, with 260 pound freight train heading at you, how best to accomplish that goal? At the last split second, Smith realized he had no plan, and all he could do was deliver a hit, or get demolished himself. So that's what happened. He probably deserved more than a two game suspension for it.

I'll say this though -- that Smith hit was nothing on the dirty scale compared to what Andre Miller did to Griffin last season. Miller delivered a blind side hit to Griffin away from the ball in the middle of a game, for which he received a one game suspension that should have been much longer. Then this season, Miller, by his own admission, encouraged Mozgov to "put Griffin on his butt" during halftime of a Clippers-Nuggets game, which Mozgov did with an ugly and dangerous foul early in the second half. That hit was premeditated, and it was celebrated, and as a Clippers fan and general observer of the NBA, it was a much more disturbing precedent -- because there were no repercussions at all. No flagrant, no ejection, no suspension, no fine.

So is Smith the most hated man in Clips Nation? Trust me, he's way down the list compared to Andre Miller and Timofey Mozgov.

For more on the Clippers, see: Clips Nation