The Triple Double: The Los Angeles Clippers and quitting on a team

James Randi will expose popular tricks and provide a rational perspective on the seemingly paranormal during his presentation “The Search for the Chimera,” as part of the Forum series Tuesday in Zorn Arena.

Story by Chris Reinoos

Triple Double

The NBA is an extreme players’ league. Coaches can get themselves fired in a hurry if they don’t mesh well with their team’s superstars (just ask Mike D’Antoni). Lakers coach Mike Brown benched Kobe Bryant for two minutes late in the fourth quarter of a recent game, and the incident became a lead story on ESPN for a day.

But the current situation with the Los Angeles Clippers and head coach Vinny Del Negro blows those out of the water.

The Clippers are in the midst of their best season in years, as they acquired Chris Paul before the season and have a 28-21 record, good for fourth in the Western Conference. Paul and Blake Griffin have put the team on the NBA map and made Clippers games cool, maybe even cooler than Lakers games.

But now reports have surfaced that Clippers players may be unhappy with Del Negro and his coaching style and that he may have “lost the team.” The unnamed players in the report criticized Del Negro’s player rotation as inconsistent and his offensive and defensive schemes as basic and predictable.

I never really enjoy unnamed sources criticizing coaches or teammates in the media, but those complaints are relatively innocent. However, the report also said Del Negro plays favorites with Paul and Griffin and that the players no longer want to play hard for him.

A head coach in the NBA playing favorites with his superstars? I’ve never heard of such a thing! What’s next, star players not getting fouls called on them? Players being able to use something called a ‘pro hop’ to blatantly travel? This isn’t the game I know and love!

Seriously, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are obviously going to be treated differently. The quickest way to fall out of favor with most star players is to treat them like everyone else. Whether it is right or wrong, players are held to different standards depending on their stature in the league. Complaining about it seems pointless and out of touch with the system.

But the thing that really bothered me about this story was that the players said they no longer wanted to play hard for Del Negro.

Players should not be motivated to play hard based on their level of fondness for their head coach. Most everyone who played sports at any level for at least a few years played for a coach they didn’t like. That doesn’t mean you stop playing hard. Such an attitude is unacceptable and insulting.

I’m also not the kind of fan to say that because NBA players make millions of dollars, they are required to play as hard as they can at all times. No matter how much money they make, they are still human beings with emotions. Jobs, no matter how financially rewarding, can be draining at times. But as with most people, athletes get through these tougher times as quickly as possible and get back to their customary levels of intensity and passion for their sport.

Deciding to stop playing hard for a certain coach also makes no sense on a personal level either. If a player chooses to give up on one team, that will be obvious to all other teams in the NBA. I don’t think teams will be as willing to give out lucrative contracts to players who stopped playing hard. As the old sports expression goes, you’re not just playing for one team: you’re also building a resume for all other teams.

Finally, most players have a burning desire to be on a winning team and to ultimately win a championship. Chris Paul didn’t want to get traded from the Hornets to make more money this year; he wanted to play on a team capable of winning in the playoffs. This is a common goal that players should be able to work toward together, whether they like their head coach or not.

Del Negro may or may not be the best coach to lead the Clippers. But that’s not what this is about. This is about players understanding what is important and what is secondary. Personal feelings for coaches can be put aside. It is never acceptable to openly quit playing hard.

The Clippers will probably make the playoffs. But unless these unnamed players decide that winning is more important than having a coach they like, they won’t get very far in postseason play. Who would that benefit?