Lob City: The Best Clippers Squad Ever?
How does this team match up to the franchise’s previous best?
by Marcus Arman
What’s to be said about the 2011-2012 Clippers of Los Angeles that hasn’t already been said over and over and over? Not much. Heck, we went to Lob Angeles last issue ourselves to detail the ugly-duckling-turned-swan story of the NBA.
Despite their newfound success, we’re pondering the Clippers’ franchise history. We’re all well aware of the misfortunes faced by the Los Angeles Little Brothers over the years. As if sharing a city with the beloved Lakers wasn’t torture enough, the Clippers have had their share of downright embarrassing basketball teams. But this year is different. We know Blake, Chris and Co. can ball, but how does this season’s batch of Clippers rank historically against the franchise’s past squads? We think pretty damn well. Read our breakdown, insight and rankings behind the Clippers Greatest Teams in Franchise History.
Folks: All-Star break is already upon us. Our favorite stars are getting ready to lace their latest planetary-themed PEs in Orlando while the rest of the league gets a much needed pit-stop during a cramped season. What better time to compare and contrast the current NBA climate with that of yesteryear? And what better team to focus on than the Los Angeles Clippers—whose squad has dominated NBA headlines since being transformed into Paulywood.
Boasting a 20-11 record, the Clippers currently sit atop the Pacific Division; their standing a testament to a truly bizarre extended off-season. Under the veteran leadership of the purest point guard in the league, Chris Paul, the Clippers have evolved into somewhat serious championship contenders. But to place all the credit on the veto heard ‘round the world would be inaccurate as it is tempting. The Clipshow added a variety of cast members—young, old, meaningful, meaningless—this season: Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups (out for season), Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin included. Plus, star forward Blake Griffin used his off-season wisely by tending to his mid-range jumper and inside footwork. These factors together result in a Clippers team unlike any in history—a combination of youth, experience, excitement and star power.
But that is not to say the Clippers haven’t floored solid squadrons prior to this season. Though their reputation is less than pristine, the Clippers have managed to reach the post-season five times since their 1984 arrival in Los Angeles. To revisit each these teams and more is to get lost in Clippers folklore: The good, the bad and Eric Piatkowski’s hairline. But that’s exactly what I did as I imagined Lob City’s chapter in the Clippers’ history books. Could this team outperform the original run-and-gun trio of Miles, QRich and Lamar Odom? Would they struggle against the Sam Cassell conducted offense of the 2006 team?  Could DeAndre handle Elton Brand’s post moves?
Who knows. All we can do is assume and idealize. And that’s exactly what I went along and did while composing the not-so-definitive list of The Greatest Teams in LA Clippers History.  Without any further ado…
HONORABLE MENTIONS – “You almost made it little Johnny!”
At 37-45, the 2004-05 Clippers were slowing inching towards the postseason, a feat they would achieve the following year. However, this season holds significance with Clipper Darrell and underdog fans everywhere as they finished with a better record than the LA Lakers for the first time since 1993. Aside from earning season-long bragging rights, the Clippers were finally overcoming their awkward transition from a run-and-gun offense to one centered around Elton Brand. This season was notable for one other reason: it made Bobby Simmons a very rich man. His play earned(?) him a five-year, $47 million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks the following season. He would soon fade into obscurity quicker than Shaun Livingston’s knee cartilage.
The Clippers 39-43 record hardly demonstrates the team’s value to the NBA this season. Earning fans with every passing Sportscenter Top 10, their youthful excellence was on display every game. Ultimately, the same youth that garnered them hype (magazine covers and all) would result in them falling shy of the postseason. Still, they were recognized for their promising young core consisting of Chicago import Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Darius Miles, Quentin Richardson and Michael Olowokandi. The signature two-fisted head-bop between Miles and Q-Rich became a popular on-court acknowledgement and the Clippers looked to be mounting momentum for the future. Alas, they didn’t make the playoffs—or even boast a winning record—but this team offered the kind of excitement never before seen in a Clippers uniform. And this was long before the days of a certain Oklahoma standout.
THE BEST OF THE REST – “You’re good, but we’re looking for something great.”
The Clippers returned to the postseason for the first time since 1993 but were no match for the Stockton and Malone fueled machine that was the Utah Jazz. They narrowly beat out the Sacramento Kings for the eighth Playoff seed, showcasing a trait common in most Clippers teams: inconsistency. Loy Vaught posted double-double averages (in his last starting season) for an offense just barely above the league average at 97.2 points per game. But their undersized and out-muscled defense failed to keep the Clippers in most games with at least average offenses.
Unfortunately, this team is shrouded in tragedy as multiple members have passed away.  Most recently, it was former center Lorenzen Wright—whom the Clippers chose in arguably the greatest NBA draft class ever.
These teams are totally different beasts deserving of their own rants and rambles, but the results are clear: Back-to-back seasons. Back-to-back Playoff births. Back-to-back 3-2 first round losses (to the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets, respectively).
The 1991 – 1992 cast was anchored by the crafty Ron Harper—in his first full season back from knee surgery—and former No. 1 overall pick Danny Manning. The duo averaged nearly 40 points per game and blossomed under the teachings of newly hired Larry Brown.  Along with Charles Smith, Ken Norman and Doc Rivers, the Clippers starting five boasted strong PPG averages but a stronger defensive presence. The league’s fifth best defense (104.7 rating) was also aided by Olden Polynice’s interior presence and Gary Grant’s perimeter play.
Following a 3-2 loss to the Jazz in the postseason, the Clippers reconstructed their lineup to include point guard Mark Jackson. This would result in a slightly worse record (41-41) but ultimately the same fate. However, Jackson paired with Harper formed one of the most exciting young backcourts in the NBA at the time. Not to mention, Manning put up career numbers on his way to being the first Clipper selected for an All-Star Game since their move to Los Angeles. The team seemed destined for deeper postseason runs, but quickly disbanded their Manning-centered nucleus in favor of acquiring superstar Dominique Wilkins—a move that would prove to hurt them as he bolted for the Spurs in 1995.
For fortunate franchises, the debate surrounding their Greatest Team Ever possibilities involves multiple championship winners—or at least some very serious contenders. For the Clippers, it’s as easy as looking down the list and stumbling upon the only team to ever advance to the second round of the Playoffs; the 2005-06 squad.
Finishing ahead of the Lakers in the Pacific Division standings proved to not be enough for this group. Freshly signed point guard Sam Cassell almost steered this team into the Conference finals—a possibility scorned by a poor coaching decision.  But this was easily the most memorable season in franchise history as the Clippers stayed competitive all season; culminating in a final record of 47-35. Additionally, Elton Brand (25 ppg, 10 rpb) played himself into NBA stardom, Chris Kaman solidified himself as one of the best fives in the West and Cuttino Mobley showed flashes of his play in Houston. Unfortunately, for the Clippers, much of the media’s attention surrounded the rebuilding Lakers (who would also fall to the Suns in the postseason). But the 2005 – 2006 unit will always hold a special place in the heart of Clippers’ fans everywhere.
YOU GUESSED IT – “There goes that man again—jumping over cars!”
The current season is hardly halfway over and it’s decided: This motley crew of Clippers is clearly the best in franchise history. From top-to-bottom, the Clippers look like they were drafted by a fantasy basketball guru. It’s strange to compliment the Clippers management, but it must be said: Bravo! Job well done Sir Donald. You occupied the offseason like no team in recent history with a little luck and a lot of money.
On the court, this team is unlike any to don the white, red and blue. They can run an up-tempo game as seen through their myriad of spectacular alley-oops. But they can also slow it down and run a successful half-court game—something that may suffer a bit now that trigger-happy Randy Foye has grabbed the reigns from the injured Billups. Regardless, this team should continue to fare very well in a shortened season as their core is young enough to outperform most teams night-in and night-out. Plus, they’ve compiled one of the deepest benches in the league, led by 6th Man of the Year frontrunner Mo Williams. It’s very difficult to compete with a team full of fresh legs. It’s even more difficult to compete with fresh legs and a backup squad
Off the court, their hype engulfed all of us. We thought of clever nicknames and blogged our high expectations. We bought Paul jerseys. And Griffin jerseys. And D-Jordan jerseys. We made YouTube fan videos—and reactions to those fan videos. We talked about them with our friends and with our family. In barbershops, at work and during class. We analyzed, we joked and we forgot Vinny del Negro is still roaming their sidelines. But, perhaps most importantly, we forgot something else. We forgot the Lakers. It took a series of miracles, but the Clippers have shed their little brother complex and embraced their role as Los Angeles’ elite team—at least for the season.
Will they go further than the second round? It’ll be quite the challenge but we’re willing to bet so. It’s no secret the West is stacked with solid teams. But they’ve already beat the majority of elite and emerging teams (at least) once this season—including the Heat, Lakers, Thunder, Mavericks, Grizzlies and Trailblazers. And aside from losing Chauncey Billups, they’ve managed to stay relatively injury free. Most assume they’ll have to match up against the Oklahoma City Thunder or San Antonio Spurs to reach the Conference finals. We’ve already seen the Clippers steal one in Oklahoma. The true test will be facing-off in a seven game series against a veteran Spurs squad capable of outperforming their younger counterparts on any given night.
There’s a helluva lot of basketball to be played before any titles are thrown around these parts. But as of now: Color us impressed! The 2011-12 Clippers have done what no team before them has done in franchise history: Become relevant.
And sometimes, relevance is everything.
 Still the only Clippers team in franchise history to reach the second round of the postseason.
 This list does not include the Los Angeles Clippers’ previous tenures as the Buffalo Braves and the San Diego
 Larry Brown was fired from the San Antonio Spurs and hired by the Los Angeles Clippers, who fired Mike Schuler.
 Coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. elected to have rookie Daniel Ewing guard Raja Bell at the end of overtime in Game 5. Bell would extend the game with a momentum-swinging 3-pointer that altered the remaining series.