The recently released ‘The Sterling Affairs’ from ESPN’s 30 for 30 Podcasts series has helped bring to light a piece of recent NBA history most had tried to forget. The excellent series, reported and narrated by Ramona Shelburne, also has some interesting echoes for Pelicans fans.
The Clippers were a team that lucked into a magnetic, high-flying superstar that many perceived as league-altering. Blake Griffin was the unquestionable number 1 pick in a loaded draft that featured James Harden, Steph Curry and the Pelicans own Jrue Holiday. For a time they were the plucky upstart and supplied countless highlights with a young core comprised of Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe and Eric Gordon, the future Pelican and centerpiece of the Chris Paul trade.
The infamously rejected trade of Paul to the Lakers for “basketball reasons” by David Stern of the then league owned New Orleans Hornets forced former GM Dell Demps to pivot elsewhere. The good fortune to land Griffin also granted the Clippers the cache to swing a deal for Paul, creating a core group that would be forever etched in fans hearts and minds as “Lob City”.
What the Pelicans now face is the ultimate merger of this situation, sans all the disgusting sleaze Donald Sterling brought to the table. They feature a veteran star guard with Holiday in his prime like Paul in LA. A prodigy power forward who many perceive as truly league altering in Zion Williamson. Alvin Gentry, a veteran player’s coach, who’s already been through a whirlwind and acted as the face of the franchise much similar to Doc Rivers throughout the Sterling Saga. Complimentary young pieces on the same timeline as the young superstar with Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker functioning as Jordan and Bledsoe. Elite young talent on the cusp with Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram standing in for Eric Gordon. Oh and lest we forget starting Lob City shooting guard JJ Redick...actually being on the Pelicans roster.
This is all to say that it appears as though the 2019-20 New Orleans Pelicans have created an Infinity Gauntlet of all the good pieces from the entire Lob City Clippers era.
For six seasons with Paul and Griffin in the fold, Lob City pushed the Western Conference contenders but never reached the mountaintop. But in the heart of one of their best runs to get there, they had to sort through the Sterling mess. They accomplished so much and truly contended in the West despite the drawbacks from the worst owner in American professional sports. But with the Clippers summer coup of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and expected new arena and move to Inglewood, Donald Sterling is quickly becoming nothing more than an ugly footnote for the burgeoning Hollywood franchise.
The Pelicans, however, are in the unique position to use the Lob City Clippers successes and failures as a blueprint, while relying on the top flight ownership and management of Gayle Benson and David Griffin. Sterling was an owner who had never fully prioritized the Clippers success for a variety of reasons, including his own frugality and seeming disinterest in actually winning basketball games. Gayle Benson is an owner who is just getting her feet wet, but the mandate to win and cultivate a top notch organization with a family environment — unlike anything ever remotely conceived during Sterling’s Clipper tenure — is clear.
Lob City is dead, long live the new Lob City. Or should it say Vive la Ville Des Lobs.