first_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Over the next 82 regular-season games and, presumably the playoffs, this team will pen the next chapter. The only question that needs to be answered is – will this be the final one?The Clippers’ uncertain future hasn’t been a defining topic this preseason; the players haven’t allowed for it. Neither, for that matter, has the past been much of a topic.Instead, players and Clippers coach Doc Rivers have talked about things like the minor changes to the team’s offense. They’ve spoken about assimilating new veterans such as Marreese Speights, Raymond Felton, Brandon Bass and Alan Anderson into the second unit.They’ve spoken about how healthy Griffin looks and feels, how Jordan’s gold-medal summer can be a boost or how Paul’s injuries are behind him.Rookies Diamond Stone and Brice Johnson have come up; so has Austin Rivers’ versatility, Jamal Crawford’s agelessness and Redick’s precision.But that’s not what this season is really about.Following this season, Griffin and Paul can both tear up their contracts and become free agents – something that is all but certain to occur. Regardless of their decisions, Redick will become a free agent as well.And while salaries could be significantly altered in the NBA’s next collective bargaining agreement, it’s easy to anticipate Griffin and Paul will command around $63 million combined next season.All three players have denied that their contract status has changed anything in their approaches, with Redick addressing the issue on his latest podcast.That the team could lose 75 percent of its so-called “core four” following the season certainly raises the stakes. Pundits outside the team have declared each of the last two seasons “win-or-bust” years for the Clippers, and while the team didn’t win or bust, those stakes suddenly seem more real.For many, a trip to the Western Conference finals – a place the organization has never been – would signal success. For people such as Doc Rivers, that goal is two steps short of what the team is truly playing for. Still, that, Griffin said, isn’t a driving force in his thinking.“We’re not really worried about what happens after this season. We’re worried about what happens in the season,” Griffin said. “Every year, if you don’t have a sense of urgency, if it takes somebody being like ‘This could be the last year to have a sense of urgency,’ then you’re already kind of playing from behind. I don’t think it really affects us.”While that might not be a motivating factor, past failures certainly are. Instead of trusting that this is all part of some long, drawn-out narrative where the Clippers stumble at each hurdle before finally reaching the finish line, Jordan thinks it’s time to erase everything and just do it.“We’ve got to stop talking about it. We’re past that point. We’ve got to make stuff happen,” he said. “We’re only getting older, so we don’t get chances like this, but the chances we’ve had the past three years, with the team that we’ve had, the talent, the coaching, we have a chance to do something special, and I’m tired of us going down the same road come May, April.”A new road, a new story, ends with pleasure and not pain. It ends with the Clippers, not their opponents, figuring out ways to win when it looks impossible, getting the lucky bounces and keeping their team healthy enough to compete.The Clippers expect this season, somehow, to be different. Doc Rivers doesn’t feel like the pressure is too much weight to carry.“It’s not a burden. It’s an honor. It really is,” he said. “I’ve never looked at it as a burden. …You should be excited and happy. Anytime you’re in the NBA and you’re on a team that people think is good, that’s a pleasure.”But with that pleasure comes pain – the Clippers and their fans know that all too well.The next chapter of their story begins being written tonight. The tale they end up telling, that’s in the authors’ hands. PLAYA VISTA >> Doc Rivers walked out of the arena with blood on the shoulder of his white monogrammed dress shirt. Chris Paul’s hand was broken; Blake Griffin’s quadriceps was torn. DeAndre Jordan’s ankle was twisted; J.J. Redick’s heel was bruised.And, Austin Rivers, well, his face was a total mess.This is how the Clippers had their hearts, and other body parts, broken last spring.The Clippers’ 2015 season ended with as much of a painful screech as it did with a thud, a litany of injuries helping undo a 2-0 series lead over the Portland Trail Blazers, sending them into another summer full of introspection.center_img While the Clippers’ bad luck in Portland was substantial, it was almost even more amazing considering the road this team’s stars – Griffin, Paul and Jordan – have walked.For five years, they’ve been beaten, embarrassed by ownership, undone by freak injuries at the worst time. They’ve melted down in spectacular ways only to find even more spectacular ones the following season.And, for the team and its followers, each season has ended with them hurting like hell.All the blood and the bad breaks have written pages upon pages of compelling copy.“I just feel,” Paul said on the eve of the 2016 season, “like everybody has a story.”last_img