Blog buddy ClipperSteve of ClipsNation and I exchanged questions in advance of the FEVER PITCH matchup between our Kings and his Clippers this evening in lovely (read: despicable) Los Angeles. My answers are over there; Steve's follow.
StR: Things are not so good for the Kings or the Clippers. And perhaps worst of all, a dreaded in state rival is more powerful than ever, with a capital PAU. But an optimist could make a case on either side as well. Who should be more depressed about their team right now? ClipsNation or Sactown?
ClipperSteve: That's a really great question. I wish I'd thought of it!
The Lakers are the Lakers. It sucks for the Clippers that they're once again great, but that one is out of the team's control. It has a real psychological impact on the team, to be sure. The papers cover the Lakers incessantly and either ignore the Clippers or ridicule them. But what can you do?
I'd have to say that Kings fans should be marginally more depressed right now, but it's pretty close. My assumption at this point is that Elton Brand will be back and 100% next season. Achilles injuries are not career enders (or even career diminishers for that matter); and the few teams that have cap space this summer are not likely to be compelling to him. So I think he plays the final year of this contract. If the Clippers return to 2006 form, then everyone is happy. If not, he hits the market in 2009 when more teams (and more interesting teams) will have money to spend. So Brand alone gives Clipper fans reason for hope. If, on the other hand, Brand opts out, Clippers fans win the depression derby in a rout.
Aside from Brand, the situations are eerily similar. A veteran point guard is gone. It's unclear who will play the point next season, or if there is enough quality there to compete in the west. A star forward, about whom the organization is ambivalent, can opt out and become a free agent. And to top it all off, there are franchise level issues - the Clippers owner being, well, a turd, while the Kings' very future in Sacramento is in question.
I suppose it could be worse. Here are the fan bases who have more concerns: the Knicks (duh), the Grizzlies (if they think they're getting a big name free agent this summer, they're wrong), the Pacers (just cuz), the Sonics (not because of basketball, since they have cap room and Kevin Durant, but because the team is gone). The Heat and the Bulls are enigmas. The Suns future is bleak, but it may take a little time.
Not sure why I went there. Schadenfreude. At least I'm not a Knicks fan.
StR: Is it to the point where blowing it up is the preferred method for progress, or do you think a 'retooling' around Elton Brand, Chris Kaman, and possibly Shaun Livingston is plausible?
ClipperSteve: I think it makes perfect sense to give this group one year. Chris Kaman is third in the league in rebounding and third in blocked shots this season. And he was always second to Brand on the team in those categories. Even with them cannibalizing each others stats some on the court together next season, they could easily both be in the top 10 in those categories. When was the last time that happened? The answer is the late 90s, David Robinson and Tim Duncan. And the Spurs won a couple championships with those guys. Al Thornton has played really well, and is the type of 'give him the ball and let him work' scorer that the Clippers have needed . And despite the conventional wisdom, there's no guarantee that Maggette won't be back. Add in a lottery pick in a draft deep at the guard position and there's certainly reason to keep this group together into next season. If they wind up in the lottery again, get out the dynamite. (Of course, Brand will probably do that for them.)
StR: You've not been a fan of Mike Dunleavy Sr. You've not been a fan of Donald Sterling. How on Earth do you find the motivation to cope with their catfights? If you could end the reign of either, which would you choose?
ClipperSteve: This debate rages on ClipsNation on a daily basis, but there's no question who I would smite if I had a magical sword for, you know, smiting stuff... with. On a competency scale from 1-10, Donald Sterling is a 0 as an NBA owner while MDsr is a 6, maybe even a 7. While we're at it, Elgin Baylor is probably a 2 as a general manager.
With Baylor (and to a lesser extent Dunleavy) it's hard to gauge the extent to which Sterling's restrictions have limited his effectiveness. But the biggest mystery in pro sports has to be why Elgin Baylor still has a job. The guy has been the GM for 21 years. During those 21 years, the Clippers have been to the playoffs 4 times, and they've only had a winning record twice. They've won a single playoff series. Meanwhile, over a third of the league has changed GMs in the last 2 seasons, and two thirds have changed in the last 5. Of course Baylor may still be there simply because no one else would take this job.
MDsr. on the other hand, has been a massive success compared to his counterparts in the organization. He gets a do over on this season - the injuries were too much to overcome, without question. Last season was extremely unfortunate, and he gets his share of blame for it. But the team improved in each of his first three seasons as the head coach, and there is no question that he has improved the defense significantly. The Clippers offense on the other hand is mind-numbingly dull. With enough talent on the floor in 2006, and playing solid defense, they were able to succeed. And maybe they'll get back to that level. But I keep wondering if there is some 'genius' assistant out there who can come in and do for the Clippers attack what Tom Thibodeau appears to have done for the Celtics D.
But Donald T. Sterling has consistently won the title of 'Worst Owner in Pro Sports' and it's not just hype - he has earned it. (This is a tough category when you consider that Bill Bidwell is still out there.) Peter May of the Boston Globe stood by aghast as Sterling professed not to know what a buyout was last week; Sterling apparently knows less about the Collective Bargaining Agreement than the most casual commenter at StR. In his MLK Day tirade, he said that injuries couldn't be an excuse: "everybody has injuries and you can't use that as an excuse. What you have to do is bring in new players." As if players the caliber of Elton Brand are sitting around waiting for his call, and are willing to sign for a portion of the MLE. The latest is that he hasn't spoken to MDsr since their January kerfuffle, and won't return his phone calls. So in addition to being a bad owner, he apparently has all the maturity of a 14 year old. (MDsr hasn't exactly been Mr. Mature or Mr. Personality the last couple seasons either.)
Unfortunately, there's no one to fire Sterling. It's clear that it would be better for the NBA if someone else owned the Clippers. But no one can force him to sell. And as a recent article in Play Magazine pointed out, Sterling is a patient man who made his money in real estate by purchasing assets, and never ever selling them. He's the ultimate buy-and-hold guy. He's not going anywhere. Which is why people get focused more on Baylor and Dunleavy.
StR: What is the worst-case scenario for the Clippers this summer? Both Brand and Corey Maggette opting out? Brand opting out, but Maggette staying? Vice versa? Signing Shaun Livingston to a $50 million contract?
ClipperSteve: If Brand opts out this summer, whether Maggette stays or not, it's bad. Very, very bad. The team's had plenty of other injuries. Last I checked, they were third in the league behind the Wiz and the Kings in player games lost, WITHOUT counting Brand and Livingston. So it's reasonable to say that a healthy Generic Clipper squad (no Brand) is better than 19-39. But let's face it, we've seen that team, and it's not good. If Brand is gone, then I suppose it's worse if Corey stays, because then there won't even be enough money to make a big offer. (I don't see who they would lure here at any rate, though I suppose you could make a case that Agent Zero might like max dollars in Hollywood.) The real worst case scenario is Brand gone, Maggette here, and Livingston done. Let's face it - the guy's knee ceased to exist a year ago. Anything that made it a knee - it's essential knee-ness - vanished in a split second. It was a gruesome injury, and he hasn't played since. Maybe he'll never be able to play again. People think he will, but no one has seen it. The Clippers have a long history of mediocre or worse point guard play, culminating in last season's playoff 'push' with Jason Hart and this season's three dwarfs (Brevin Knight, Dan Dickau and 10 dayer Andre Barrett). No Brand and no point guard would be brutal. Kind of like this season, come to think of it.
StR: Was the single playoff season worth the pain of the past two?
ClipperSteve:Are you kidding? I've been a Clipper fan since the mid 80s. I've seen them go to the playoffs 4 times in over 20 years, and one of those times it was with a losing record - and did I mention that making the playoffs that season took them out of the running for Tim Duncan? That Denver series was worth a lot more pain than I've been through so far. Don't forget - last year's 40-42 was still their 4th best record in 24 seasons in LA. Sure, there were the unaccustomed expectations which made it a little more painful, but I still had a smile on my face after almost half of the regular season games (as opposed to one third of them so far this season). I'm a Clipper fan. There's no real explanation for it. But I wouldn't trade the 2006 playoffs for the number one pick in that draft. Andrea Bargnani? No way. (Greg Oden... maybe.)
Many thanks to ClipperSteve for the insight. It was insightful!