No, it wasn’t last week when Blake Griffin slugged his buddy, equipment manager Matias Testi, who barely comes up to his shoulder.
It goes all the way back to Doc Rivers’ arrival in the 2013-14 season that ended with Donald Sterling igniting himself, streaking across the sky like a fireball and disappearing from their sight forever.
If that seemed like a good thing for the Clippers, it marked their zenith. They have been devolving ever since Steve Ballmer paid $2 billion for them.
The Clippers won 57 that season, beat the Warriors in the first round — how wild does that sound two years later? —then fell to OKC only after Chris Paul was called for grazing Russell Westbrook on a desperate heave at the end of regulation in Game 5, giving Russ to the three free throws that tied it.
OKC won in OT or the Clippers would have gone home for Game 6 with a 3-2 lead.
Rivers’ arrival was No. 1 on a list of things that had gone spectacularly right at the end of Sterling’s long, madcap reign.
1) Coach/President Mike Dunleavy and right-hand man Neil Olshey drafted DeAndre Jordan (35th overall) in the second round in 2008.
2) They hit the lottery for Griffin in 2009.
3) Olshey, now GM, landed New Orleans’ Chris Paul in 2011 with the Lakers trying to get back into it before David Stern spiked their deal.
4) Olshey got Paul to waive his opt-out at the end of that lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, giving them two years to prove themselves, and giving CP3 his choice of coaches.
5) With Olshey stolen away by Portland after Sterling — typically — let his contract run out, a committee of president Andy Roeser, Coach Vinny Del Negro and CP3 landed key members of one of the NBA’s top benches, led by Jamal Crawford.
Rivers’ arrival in the summer of 2013 was the maraschino cherry atop the sundae of their good fortune.
Until then team officials had to hope that whatever they pulled off was obviously beneficial enough to get the gloomy Sterling to forego his usual second-guessing.
River got control of the basketball operation — but so had Dunleavy, only to endure a year of defrocking when their fortunes nosed over.
With league-wise cachet, Rivers wouldn’t stand for that. When Sterling resisted his first trade, Doc was reportedly ready to walk just weeks after arriving.
Nor did it remain a secret. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, an old Doc guy, broke it, serving notice on Sterling to stay the hell out of the way if he wanted to keep his coach.
So far it was all good. They had youth, athleticism, skill, leadership, on the floor and off, and for the first time, stability.
It was an open secret in Miami that LeBron James was dying to play for Doc and alongside CP3, the godfather to one of Bron’s sons.
The Clips didn’t have the cap space for James but seemed poised for greatness without him.
Unfortunately, that three-team trade with Milwaukee and Phoenix which Sterling resisted went through.
Out went Eric Bledsoe. In came J.J. Redick.
Everyone knew Bledsoe was a star-in-waiting stuck behind Paul. If the two got along — EB had attended CP3’s camp — everyone knew Bledsoe would have to leave to get paid.
The Warriors had already begun to show what could be done with three guards–Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Jarrett Jack — in a second-round loss to San Antonio.
Since Bledsoe actually played well with Paul, the Clippers were ideally positioned to play a lot of small ball. With more daring, imagination and enough brinksmanship to get Donald to max out a bench player, they might have kept Bledsoe.
Instead, they went conventional.
Rivers went with Paul’s desire for Redick, a crack shooter over a cheaper alternative like Aaron Afflalo, then in Orlando, available for bupkus and a better defender.
The bench has since deteriorated annually.
Darren Collison, stellar for a season, was allowed to leave (for Sacramento) to sign Spencer Hawes, who had been fine starting in Philadelphia but was a disaster and is now in Charlotte.
Josh Smith came from Houston, lasted three months and is once more a Rocket.
At 38, Paul Pierce is averaging 20.5 minutes as a starter. Lance Stephenson, another high-profile acquisition/disaster, is no longer in the rotation.
If they were still capable of competing at a high level with Griffin, we wouldn’t have the Warriors now setting the standard in the West.
Golden State is a model, not only of what you can do on offense but what you can get a bunch of offensive players to do on defense, and of what comprises good chemistry.
Losing one of your stars with a broken hand after punching out his entourage’s version of Turtle doesn’t cut it, chemistry-wise.
It remains to be seen when Griffin will return — Rivers has scoffed at the team’s four-to-six week projection — and how long he’ll be suspended when he’s back.
The Clippers were grim to a man after going to 13-3 without Griffin Wednesday in Atlanta.
“We’re all like family,” said Paul. “That’s how we’re going to deal with this, as a family.”
“Two guys that I’m super close with, and it’s sticky, man,” said Jordan, who was out with Griffin and Testi. “It’s tough.”
“This is a hard lesson for Blake but it’s also a hard lesson for our team,” said Rivers.
As far as their future goes, they no longer need shades to see it. Now it’s more like a searchlight.
Hall of Fame writer Mark Heisler, a member of the writers’ wing at the Naismith Hall of Fame, is a founding member and regular columnist for SheridanHoops, as well as the Los Angeles Daily News. Follow him on Twitter.