It is nearly the end of the NBA regular season and it seems like no one is even mentioning Los Angeles. If we were to fast-forward a few weeks to April 18, the day playoffs begin, there would still be no mention of Los Angeles.
It seems that Southern California has forgotten all about … the Los Angeles Clippers. But, the rumors are true. LA’s other team is still part of the National Basketball League. Unfortunately, the love for the Lakers, who sit atop the Western Conference with a record of 58-14, trumps the fervor once exhibited for the Clippers, who boast a record of 18-56 and sit slightly above the league’s worst team from Sacramento.
The squad might look terrible, but this is no ode to the Clippers.
Sure, their winning percentage will probably not break .300. Sure, the Clippers have been littered with injuries and ailments all-season and have therefore lacked cohesion. Sure, the Clips are somewhat of a motley crew. In fact, there are only three players on the current roster that finished the 2007-2008 season with the team. Still, maybe we will all get the opportunity to see what the new Clippers have to offer. Call me crazy, but it is not impossible to see the team’s potential. Well, don’t call me crazy. Call me romantic.
The Clippers could find their place in the ever-competitive West in 2009-2010. On paper the Clippers have a stellar roster, full of young talent and competitive veterans. On the court the team has not been able to maintain a consistent starting five. This has created an opportunity for the team’s role players and youth to see greater playing time.
Guard Eric Gordon has been bringing the Clips Christmas cheer all year long (the rookie’s birthday is December 25.) Gordon has averaged 15.6 points and was selected as the T Mobile Western Conference January Rookie of the Month. Gordon posted 30 plus points in four contests including a career-high 41 points against the Thunder in front of a crowd of about thirteen crazed fans. Gordon has a lot of potential and could help the team increase their dismal winning percentage if he learned to work the ball around a little more (he is averaging less than three assists a game.)
Steve Novak has been effective with long-range shots (just over 43 percent from beyond the arc) and provided a few points now and again. Second year forward Al Thorton has also contributed a hearty 17.1 points a game.
Still, while fans have smirked at the Clipper youth and bench, they have grimaced at the team’s inability to get the best players to play together consistently. This has inhibited the team from effectively incorporating a steady game plan.
Twelve year veteran center/forward Marcus Camby is finishing his first year with the team … on the bench. Camby has averaged a double-double in the games that he has played (10.6 points, 11.3 boards). A recent ankle injury will likely keep Camby out for much of the remaining season. Injuries kept Camby from suiting up for the early part of the season. You can never finish what you don’t start.
Although guard Baron Davis is below his career average in most areas, his 15 points have helped and his eight assists a game (one category that has exceeded his career average) have alluded to his veteran ability to lead a team. Still, Davis has been known for his inability to complete an entire season. Davis is currently missing time due to the combined pangs of an ulcer and calf injury. An up-year, Davis has managed to miss fewer than twenty games in 08-09.
The Clippers said goodbye to Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas this season, two players who were apparently itching to leave the team. In return, the organization was fortunate enough to bring in seven-year veteran Zach Randolph, an effective post player who has brought solid offense and snagged a few boards (averaging over 21 points and nine rebounds since joining the team.)
Chris Kaman, one of the few players who suited up for the Clips last season has seen his averages rise in a few categories, including points (+1.5), assists (+.4) and shooting percentage (+5.6 percentage). But that’s not saying much for a player who has only played 26 games this season.
Ricky Davis’s tenure with the Clippers has matched his overall up-and-down career and unpredictable attitude. Davis also has a late season injury and is out indefinitely.
Clippers fans are hopeful that Head Coach Mike Dunleavy is no longer hanging on the success of the 2005-06 season, where the team recorded their best record since the franchise moved to California and their first playoff appearance in nine seasons. Dunleavy, who is also the organization’s General Manager, could lure more fans clad in red and blue out of hiding and into the Staples Center. Dunleavy carries an impressive resume. And fortunately for the Clips, Dunleavy will not want to be confined to the cellars of the West. That is if Dunleavy lasts through the offseason.
If Dunleavy is watching basketball from the film-room and not his living-room come the beginning of off-season workouts, expect the team to be playoff ready soon enough. An eight seed is totally manageable.
While in the optimistic spirit, it is worth mentioning the saving grace that stems from this daunting season. It is reasonable that the Clippers will receive a high draft pick. Dunleavy will therefore have a shot at some talented youngsters. If still around, the powerful Blake Griffin (Oklahoma) or lengthy Hasheem Thabeet, (UCONN) could prove smart picks. Griffin impressed many with his impressive tournament play while Thabeet is a gem on the boards.
Jordan Hill of Arizona could also make an effective addition to the Clipper roster. At 6-10 and 235, Hill can be compared to Camby. He is quick for his size, which could be good in the pick-in-roll with Davis or the blossoming Gordon. Hill could also bring defensive presence and compliment Camby with a few extra blocks. With any luck, this addition will help round out the new Clips.
I will not go as far as saying that the Clippers should now be identified as “Los Angeles” and the Lakers should be distinguished as the “LA Lakers” (see all leading sports publications and websites where the Clippers are referred to as LA Clippers and the Lakers as Los Angeles.)
But, perhaps with a little TLC, there will be a buzz about both LA teams come April 2010.