PLAYA VISTA – There was a haze of disbelief still lingering at the Clippers’ training center less than 24 hours after their season was ended by a first-round playoff loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.
The team returned home from Memphis in the early hours of Saturday morning following their 118-105 loss in Game 6 and were at their Playa Vista facility for an 11 a.m. team meeting and individual postseason exit interviews.
Several players, including superstars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, met with the media afterwards and tried to describe what it felt like to have a 56-win season end much quicker than they anticipated.
“This is unreal,” Paul said. “We only played two weeks longer than everybody else that didn’t make the playoffs. That sucks. It stings.”
“We talked about it in the locker room,” Griffin added. “And [Paul] said, ‘I can’t believe this is over.’ It hasn’t really processed and I’m not sure when it will. I don’t know if it’s going to be when I watch the second round or whenever it is, but it’s a little shocking right now.”
Grant Hill said it is disappointing. Caron Butler, Matt Barnes and Chauncey Billups called it tough.
“This is always a tough day, especially when you feel like you underachieved,” Billups said. “There are probably some teams that would probably feel happy to have made the playoffs and fought hard in the first round. Obviously, our expectations are different now, so it’s a tough day to come here knowing that reality is that the season is over. We made some strides this year, but the season is over.”
Those strides included winning the first Pacific Division championship in franchise history, setting numerous team records such as most wins in a season (56), most road wins (24), and most consecutive victories (17), and entering the playoffs with home court advantage in the first round for the second time ever.
But regular season success could not push the Clippers past the opening round of the playoffs and after racing out to a 2-0 series lead over the Grizzlies, they lost the next four games by 10 points or more.
The swift exit from the playoffs brings about numerous questions heading into the offseason, some of which were posited Saturday.
Paul’s pending free agency is the foremost priority and the team has five other unrestricted free agents including Barnes, Billups, Lamar Odom, Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf. Hill has hinted at retirement but made no indication that he’s reached a firm decision. And the status of Head Coach Vinny Del Negro, who is not under contract for next season, remains on the docket.
All of the topics were broached in some form with the media Saturday.
Paul offered little in the way of what his timeline will be for making a decision.
“All season long I’ve said it’s something that I would address after the season and I really didn’t think about it all during the season,” Paul said. “And the season is not even 24 hours from being over. I really haven’t thought about it.”
He was more focused on the unexpected exit from the playoffs.
“I have nothing to do,” he said several times. “The craziest thing to me is that the season is over. I haven’t got that wrapped up around in my brain. When I woke up this morning, Little Chris got in my bed and the first thing he said was, ‘Daddy why’d you lose again?’”
For Griffin losing had not sunk in yet, as he alluded to, but he felt like the success the Clippers had in the regular season is step in the right direction for a franchise that won just 32 games his rookie season.
“This season for us was kind of a breakthrough in that we accomplished a lot of things,” Griffin said. “Obviously, in the postseason we didn’t accomplish what we wanted but like I said it’s not going to happen overnight.”
“It’s tough, but I think as a franchise I think we made tremendous strides as far as meeting goals and accomplishing things the franchise had never done before,” said Barnes, who averaged a career-high 10.3 points per game off the bench this season. “But to those players in the locker room to exit in the first round is nothing anyone planned on. It’s tough to swallow and you’ve got to use it as motivation to go work on your deficiencies and weaknesses and come back next year stronger.”
MORE NOTEABLE QUOTES
Caron Butler on seeing his teammates for the last time this season:
“It’s extremely tough. It still doesn’t seem real, you know, coming to the gym and seeing the guys packing up and everything. It’s tough. It’s part of it.”
Chauncey Billups on whether or not he would like to return to the Clippers next season:
“I would love to be back here and try to continue to help in this process because I feel like we are getting closer. You never know with a season, I try to preach that you can’t take things for granted. You never know if the team will be together like this again. But I definitely want to be a part of it. I will be able to show everybody who I’ve always been with a summer getting myself together. Hopefully, it works out like that.”
Chris Paul on what went wrong in the Memphis series:
“It’s one of those things where we waited too late to hit. Last night we came out aggressive and we were the guys that were not letting them knock us around. It was almost too late because we were getting a whistle every time down and stuff like that. It’s nice that we came out and fought but it was too late.”
Blake Griffin on how much his injured ankle may have impacted the series:
“Hopefully, being able to play a regular 35 minutes or however many minutes I would have been able to go would’ve helped. I believe it would have. You can’t control things like that though.”
Grant Hill on what will go into his decision about retirement:
“I think for the last four or five years I’ve been year to year. I think the main things is getting away from it for a little bit and seeing how you feel physically and mentally and if you still have the desire and how does your body feel. One plus is that I didn’t play a lot this year, so instead of a 40-year-old body, I have a 38-year-old body.”