They Can't All Be Winners, Part 16: Los Angeles Clippers

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For much of Eric Rohmer’s malaise-pickled-French-guy-cheats-on-his-wife romance Love in the Afternoon, the protagonist floats. The handsome disconnectedness of Bernard Verley’s performance suggests his character is making choices according to what he feels, but that he doesn’t feel much. The affair begins due to his interest in a friend’s ex; it persists due to the sort of psychic inertia that can carry you anywhere, if you’re unhappy enough. He falls in love frictionlessly.

And then suddenly, as he’s about to consummate the ignominious relationship, gravity finds him. He’s standing in his mistress’s bathroom, pulling his shirt off, and she’s draped across the bed like the subject of a Renaissance nude. He looks at her and realizes, maybe for the first time, what he is doing. He turns toward the mirror, his shirt over his head like a child pretending to be a worm, and is seized by shame. He returns home immediately, to an already-detonated marriage.

Love in the Afternoon is a multiply truthful movie, but its broadest—and by extension, most discomfiting—truth is that we are not always present for our lives. There is a gap between our actions and their consequences that we sometimes can’t be bothered to bridge. This is one of humanity’s malignant defects. We have to be persistently aware of our actions, but we aren’t, and so we hurt ourselves and each other out of boredom and mindlessness, the pain from our mistakes arriving on a delay, like the inverse of sound trailing a bullet.

I wonder what DeAndre Jordan’s face looked like when the 90-pound sandbag of regret landed on his chest and he pecked out a couple conciliatory texts to Doc Rivers.

All athletes are instinctive. They’ve taught their bodies to outpace thought. But some players seem more comfortable ensconced in thoughtlessness than others. Rajon Rondo, for instance, often looks like he has set aside a pile of bridge schematics to run point for a few minutes, and that he’s not a little annoyed about it. DeAndre Jordan is one with the void. He fills it up with noise: swats, dunks, and goofy-exuberant faces. If he were a comedian, his jokes would be all punchline. If he were a musician, he’d aim for nothing but bangers.

So maybe it was gleeful heedlessness that led DeAndre Jordan to accept a deal with the Mavericks only to renege a few days later while feeding Mark Cuban lies about being out of the house on a date. Jordan’s delayed quasi-explanation supports this reading. “I feel like I didn’t give [the decision] all of my thought,” he told The Players’ Tribune. He let the idea of becoming a star in Dallas take him up like wave, but the feeling subsided just before the choice became irrevocable. Total disaster was barely averted. Pissing off a fanbase one thing; shackling yourself to a job you don’t want is another.

There is no magic for Jordan to recapture in Los Angeles. He’s the pile of meat par excellence who makes the Clippers hum. He’s more talented than he gets credit for—rolling is an art, and so are garbage buckets—but his game is too incomplete for him to ever wrest editorial control of the offense from Chris Paul. Jordan is an essential, well-compensated cog. Alongside Paul, his full potential will remain theoretical. This clearly bothers Jordan, as does Paul’s withering paternalism. It bothers him so much that he pulled the free agency equivalent of flaking on a house closing.

This has made Jordan seem hapless and indecisive, but then we have all been made to seem that way, at one point or another in our lives. We have all been gripped by regret that comes all at once. We make a decision without thinking it through. The decision itself happens almost independently, as if it’s something that’s happening to us rather than something we are doing. And then, in the way we recognize that what was once a sunset has, in a span of our inattention, turned to night, we recognize we have made a mistake. We panic, and scramble, and look to salvage what’s salvageable.

There was a moment when Jordan realized, for the first time, what he was about to do. And he pecked out a couple conciliatory texts to Doc Rivers, hoping it wasn’t too late.

Previously on TCABW: Charlotte Hornets | Philadelphia 76ers | Houston Rockets | Los Angeles Lakers | Dallas Mavericks Indiana Pacers | Oklahoma City Thunder | Memphis Grizzlies | Chicago Bulls | Washington Wizards Cleveland Cavaliers Brooklyn Nets New York Knicks Denver Nuggets | Miami Heat

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