THE CLIPPERS TEAM REPORT
I. Los Angeles Clippers Background:
|1999-2000 record:||15-67||Western Conference Standing:||14th (last)|
|Games out of 1st place:||52||2000 Draft Selections:||3rd, 18th, 30th |
The L.A. Clippers: "The worst franchise in all of sports." Or so Sports Illustrated termed the woeful Los Angeles team in a recent issue.
Donald Sterling, Elgin
Baylor, and the Clippers front office have become notorious for making poor personnel decisions, hiring and firing coaches at whim, giving away good players for nothing in return (i.e. letting Lorenzen Wright leave instead of pursuing a sign and trade deal with the Hawks or other suitors), and refusing to pay any player a substantial amount of cash to play for the "other" Los Angeles franchise. With nearly as much free agency money as Orlando and Chicago, playing in one of the top three television markets in the nation (which can, and I emphasize can, mean endorsements for star players), and with perhaps the top prospects in each of the last two drafts
(Michael Olowokandi and
Lamar Odom) one would think the Clippers are assembling a playoff team. But in fact the Clippers are far from the playoffs, though with a few free agency moves and a good draft they could come a step closer.
The Clippers still lack a coach, as Jim Todd is the most recent to say "adios" to Los Angeles. Nuggets' assistant coach
John Lucas, Clippers' assistant
Dennis Johnson, and even former Georgetown leader
John Thompson have been rumored to be heading to the Clippers' bench next season to attempt to succeed where many other coaches have failed: coaxing the Clippers to a winning season. But more important than securing a coach the Clippers' front office must determine who will play on the floor next season for a team that won just 18 percent of its games in 1999-2000.
The players locked to the Clippers by contract include
Tyrone Nesby, Eric Piatkowski,
Brian Skinner, and Eric
Murdock. Key free agents include Maurice Taylor and
Derek Anderson. The following sections are a quick rundown on each of these players, both those under contract as well as the free agents.
II. Players Under Contract:
- Lamar Odom (sf): On the all-rookie team, Odom averaged 16.6 points and 7.8 rebounds a game last year, along with 4.2 assists and 1.25 blocked-shots. Odom is without a doubt a star in the making. He has a body not unlike Kevin Garnett's, and a developing game that matches post-up moves with an outside shot. Of course, other teams are after Odom (Iverson for Odom rumors have been floating around), but if the Clippers hang on to him they will indeed have a player who can take over games, not to mention lead a team without any leadership. Odom thus is the key to the Clippers' franchise in the coming years. A poor man's Garnett, his fate with the team can alone decide whether the Clippers head to the playoffs in the coming seasons or remain mired in the lonely depths of the Western Conference.
- Michael Olowokandi (c): The first pick in the 1998 NBA Draft over Mike Bibby, Olowokandi was drafted as a work-in-progress. Critics seemed to forget that fact quickly, and Olowokandi's inability to dominate on the inside has been a focus of media attention surrounding the 7-footer. However, Olowokandi will remain the Clipper's center at least for the next two years as he has shown signs of brilliance (in a season of inconsistency) and did average 9.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.75 blocks per game last year.
- Tyrone Nesby (sg/sf/pf): Nesby is one of those players who, like Odom, can play a variety of positions. If he ends up in the Clippers starting line-up next season (he started half the games for them last year) it will likely be as a shooting-guard. Nesby is under contract until 2002, and can become an important part of the Clippers franchise as a starter or sixth-man. Last year Nesby averaged 13.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, but shot just under 40 percent from the field.
- Eric Piatkowski (sg): A solid back-up at the shooting-guard position as well as a decent spot-starter, Piatkowski averaged 8.7 points and 3.0 rebounds a game last season and is under contract until 2002. Drafted out of Nebraska as a "swing-man" in 1994, the 6'7" Piatkowski is notably adept at draining threes - he shot 38 percent from beyond the arc last season - an offensive category in which the Clippers otherwise struggled.
- Brian Skinner (pf/c): As a back-up power-forward and center is not exceptional, but is solid. Despite Bill Walton's statement that Skinner can dominate the NBA as a big man, Skinner's potential in my opinion is limited to being at the most a solid sixth-man. As a reserve last year the big guy averaged 6.1 rebounds and 1.33 blocks, though he was injured for a good part of the season.
- Eric Murdock (pg): Murdock is a decent back-up point guard, who is under contract until 2001 and might be useful next season to help groom a new Clippers back-court leader if L.A. chooses to go that route with one of their picks in the draft. Murdock played 17.3 minutes and averaged 5.6 points per game last year.
III. Free Agents:
- Maurice Taylor (pf): I personally will not be sad to see Taylor leave. Maurice will command a hefty contract as a free agent in the coming months, but as a power forward he was far from exceptional while with the Clippers. Though he did average 17.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season, Taylor was not the presence in the paint that most power-forwards can be, and a lack of effort and desire was evident in his play. With the Clippers likely to select a power forward with the third pick in the 2000 draft, Taylor should and will be replaced by a younger talent (Marcus Fizer, Stromile Swift, or perhaps Kenyon Martin).
- Derek Anderson (sg): Anderson is a talented player, as he proved at Kentucky, and a free agent with ability means one thing for the Clippers: he will not play in Los Angeles (unless as a Laker, though that too is unlikely) next year. Anderson averaged 16.9 points a game last season along with 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists. The Clippers best move here would be to sign-and-trade Anderson, perhaps for the Spurs Avery Johnson or the Nuggets Tariq Abdul-Wahad as rumors have suggested. Regardless, the odds that Anderson will play in a Clippers' uniform next year are next to none.
IV. Other Clippers:
- Keith Closs (c): The Clippers may hang on to the 7'3" Closs as a back-up center for next year and perhaps the 2001-2002 season as well. Closs is under contract until 2002, but can opt out this summer if he wishes. It is unlikely Closs will command a large sum of money as a free agent, and as he is being paid 1.7 million per year to be a Clipper, Closs will probably remain in L.A.
- Charles Jones (pg): Though he was the leading scorer in all of college basketball for two years in a row, coming out of Long Island University Jones could not make it as a Chicago Bull. He has ability, and can score (as is evidenced obviously by his feats in college), but has not been an exceptional player in the NBA. Regardless, Jones is the type of athlete a team would love to have on the bench to enter the game and contribute whenever needed.
V. Draft History and The Upcoming Draft:
The Clippers must make some moves in free agency and in the draft to fill the
team's holes at point guard and power forward. In the dreams of any Clippers fan the rumors surrounding free agents Tim Duncan, Grant Hill, Jalen Rose, Reggie Miller, Tracy McGrady, Rashard Lewis, Tim Thomas, Austin Croshere, and others would include talks of these potential stars being traded to or signed by the Los Angeles Clippers. And yet these players, at some point all rumored to go to either Orlando and Chicago, the other two teams with all the money, have not been included in discussions about the Clippers' plans for the upcoming year. The draft thus will be the best chance for the Clippers to build their future.
The Clippers' draft history has been far from exceptional.
1994 netted them Lamond Murray, followed by a
1995 draft in which the Clippers drafted Antonio McDyess only to trade him away for eventual sixth-man Rodney Rogers and slam-dunk champ Brent Barry. Murray currently is a solid small forward for the Cavaliers, while McDyess dominates the low block as a power forward for the Nuggets. With Barry and Rogers on the Sonics and Suns respectively, the Clippers made perhaps their greatest mistake of recent drafts in trading away the developing star
In 1996 the Clippers drafted Lorenzen Wright, but the "Sporting News" argues that L.A. "played him more at center than his natural position of power forward. Wright moved on to Atlanta, where he did not fare much better." Then for the third consecutive year in
1997 the Clippers drafted a power forward, Maurice Taylor from Michigan, who will continue the pattern of lost Clippers' power forwards as he will almost undoubtedly sign with another team this summer.
Finally, the Clippers selected Olowokandi from the University of the Pacific in
1998 and Odom from Rhode Island in
1999. Olowokandi was selected over the likes of Vince Carter, Mike Bibby, and Antawn Jamison to name a few. However, he was drafted to be a project, and perhaps in a few years he will develop into a solid big man. His hasty appearance as a starter is merely a representation of the desperation the Clippers often face in finding five decent starters year in and year out, week in and week out. Odom was a steal in 1999, as three other teams passed on the youngster who at one point wanted to return to college after declaring for the draft and signing with an agent. His appeal to the NBA to be released and allowed to return to college was rejected, luck indeed for the Clippers who can always use any break that falls in their direction.
The Clippers must address their needs at the point guard, shooting guard, and power forward spot with their three picks in the draft. I believe that they will select a power forward first, then a point guard, and then a shooting guard in that order for several reasons. Power forwards bring dominance in the paint, a crucial characteristic of winning teams as the Lakers have proven. Point guard comes next as teams with a back-court leader, a player that can orchestrate an offense, are usually successful in the NBA. What is more is that the Clippers were working with players such as Troy Hudson, Eric Murdock, and Charles Jones- decent individuals, but hardly guys capable of effectively leading an NBA basketball team - at the point guard slot last year and would like to improve at this position. Finally with Anderson leaving the Clippers must hope for a steal with a shooting guard at the 30th spot in the draft or sign a free agent.
Player availability also necessitates the order I have set in the previous paragraph. The three best players in this year's draft happen to be power forwards, and the Clippers hold the third pick guaranteeing them one of these three:
Kenyon Martin of Cincinnati, Marcus Fizer of Iowa
St., or Stromile Swift of LSU. Then point guards will be readily available in the middle of the draft:
Mateen Cleaves of Michigan St., Erick Barkley of St.
John's, Craig Claxton of Hofstra, Scoonie Penn of Ohio
St., Jamal Crawford of Michigan, A.J. Guyton of
Indiana, and Kenyon Dooling of Missouri. If the Clippers decide to wait on a point guard until the 30th pick and select a shooting guard at 18, some options might include
Quentin Richardson of Depaul, Deshawn Stevenson of Washington Union High
School, Morris Peterson of Michigan St.,
Desmond Mason of Oklahoma St., or Chris Carrawell of
Duke. The following is a brief analysis of each of these players, my pick and the reasons behind it, and then a conclusion on the Clippers' options with the 18th pick in the draft.
Power Forward (the 3rd pick):
My fellow Clippers GM in crime, Greg Gillette, selected
Marcus Fizer with his choice in the 2000 Usenet Mock Draft, the correct third pick I believe under the circumstances. The order in which I list each player in the next three sections is the order in which I believe the players will be selected in the actual draft.
Fizer is the third best power forward, so if Martin and Swift go one and two then the Clippers will end up with the big man from Iowa St.
- Kenyon Martin (Sr.
6'9"): Martin dominated college basketball last year, was the National Player of the Year, and perhaps could have led his team through the field of 64 in the NCAA Tournament if it were not for an injury to Martin in the Conference USA tournament. Regardless, Martin has the potential to be an incredible presence inside on the next level. Rumor has it that Orlando is after Martin and will trade up to grab him at number one. If on the off-chance that he is available at the third spot, the Clippers will not hesitate to draft Martin, one of the few top prospects who spent four years in college.
- Stromile Swift ( So.
6'9"): Questions about his height and bulk may abound, but no doubt Swift can play. However, he might be a little bit of a project as his game is not polished yet. Still, you cannot teach size or speed, and Swift true to his name is very quick. Off the dribble, and on the inside, Swift can fly to the basket. He is young and perhaps needs one more year as a collegian, but Swift will be selected early in this year's draft and will likely be a star in the NBA within a few years. Vancouver and Orlando both covet Swift. If he happens to be available at the 3rd spot, the Clippers may want to work a deal with the Magic acquiring say the 5th and 10th or 13th picks in return for the 3rd and 18th selections in the draft.
- Marcus Fizer (Jr.
6'8"): Perhaps he is not tall enough to play power forward, but yet Charles Barkley was built like Fizer, and Elton Brand proved last season with the Bulls that height is not as an important a feature in a power forward as are strength, quickness, and innate ability. Fizer possesses each of these characteristics, and in a pinch he can score (though not from the outside). He did lead Iowa St. to the Elite Eight in the tournament, and the Clippers would be solidifying the power forward position were they to select Marcus. They end up with Jamaal Tinsley (Iowa St.'s super point guard) in the 2001 draft and the Clippers could become much better fast. But that is another year, as Fizer can contribute as a starter to Los Angeles this season.
Point Guard (the 18th pick):
With a power forward in hand, my guess is the Clippers will look next to a point guard. The following is a list of players the Clippers will consider with their 18th pick. Listed first are the point guards, and following are the shooting guards.
Boston with the 11th pick and Detroit at 14 may also grab point guards, as may Orlando with one of their three picks. Even so, a good point guard, though perhaps not a superstar, will be available for the Clippers to select at 18. Here are some of the possibilities:
- Erick Barkley (So.
6'1"): Depending on how long Barkley lasts in the draft will determine whether the Clippers will have a shot at another point guard, my personal favorite, Mateen Cleaves. Barkley will go first as a point guard for one reason - he understands the game of basketball. Barkley does not have the best shooting skills and, in fact, he struggles from the line. But he can orchestrate an offense, create plays, and score in a pinch. In other words, despite just finishing his sophomore year, when it comes to basketball Barkley plays well beyond his age.
- Mateen Cleaves (Sr.
6'2"): I like Cleaves because he is intense, is a leader, and can bring his team to higher levels just by his presence on the court. These characteristics are exactly what the Clippers have lacked in almost all of their players the past five years, and that is why Cleaves I feel is the Clippers' best option. Detroit may take Cleaves, or Orlando, but nonetheless there is a good chance he will be available at the 18th spot. Knocks on Cleaves' ability to shoot are ill-founded, and he can penetrate, dish, and most importantly hit clutch shots to win close games. With four years of college experience the Spartans' point is prepped to start immediately in the NBA. For these reasons I believe Cleaves would be a godsend to the Clippers.
- Jamal Crawford (Fr.
6'6"): Crawford's stock is rising. He can apparently play the point or the off-guard. At 6'6" he thus would be a big point guard in a league where guards of that build seem to flourish. I do not know much about Crawford, and in fact have not seen him play. He may be a bit young and inexperienced to be opting for the NBA, but I have read that Crawford has the raw ability and dedication that can make him a star - albeit several years down the road. The Clippers might take Crawford, but it would be a sketchy selection as the team needs a starter now (I like this pick if the Clippers sign and trade Derek Anderson for a veteran point guard, say Avery Johnson or Mark Jackson, who can groom Crawford).
- Craig Claxton (Sr.
5'11"): Craig "speedy" Claxton hails from Hofstra, so he lacks experience in big time college ball. However, though his name was unfamiliar to many just a few months ago, Claxton now has become a fixture in the first rounds of various mock drafts. Most have him going to Toronto at the 21st spot (can you Damon Stoudamire part 2?), but the Clippers may be forced to draft the quick guard if Cleaves and Barkley are already taken. An interesting side note is that Claxton played his high school ball as a teammate of Barkley at Christ the King High School, the school also from which Omar Cook (St. John's incoming superstar point) hails.
- Kenyon Dooling (So.
6'3"): Dooling is another name that was probably only familiar to the minds of the most ardent college basketball fans until recently. I have read that Dooling has a game similar to Steve Francis, and what is more is that a recent mock draft had him going at the four spot. Though Dooling will probably be a late first-rounder, the Clippers do have their eye on Kenyon (and very well may select him if Barkley, Cleaves, and Crawford are gone at 18), who is from the University of Missouri.
- Scoonie Penn (Sr.
5'10"): As the college season ended several friends and I agreed that Penn was the best point guard entering this year's draft (we of course where ignoring early entries, as they had yet to be announced). Penn's stock may have dropped since March, but no doubt he belongs in the first round. Though small, Penn can pass and score. Like Cleaves his four years of college experience matter, as he can thus step in possibly as a starter or at the very least a back-up on an NBA team immediately. The Clippers could do a lot worse than drafting Penn, but I feel other point guards of greater interest to the team will be available at 18, and thus Scoonie will not play in L.A. unless he is drafted by the Lakers at 29 or by the Clippers at 30.
- A.J. Guyton (Sr.
6'1"): Guyton can score. Period. He played four years under Bob Knight as s shooting guard, and I had the opportunity to watch several amazing shooting displays by A.J. His size and the questions of whether he can handle the ball (remember, he did not play point in college) will probably cause Guyton to drop to the second round. He is a remote possibility for the Clippers at 18, though like Penn he could be selected at 30. The Clippers need a ball handler, which is the primary reason why I doubt they would select Guyton.
Should the Clippers choose to pick a replacement for Derek Anderson at 18 these players are the ones who I believe would be high on their list:
- Morris Peterson (Sr.
6'7"): The small forward from the Spartans is projected by most to land in the lottery, but the lingering question is where? Orlando? Dallas? Or maybe Detroit at the 14th spot? All of these are possibilities, but the chance also exists that Peterson will fall to 18 or lower. Depending on what point guards are available Peterson might be a good pick for the Clippers. At 6'7" he is definitely tall enough to play shooting guard, and he can score and create his own shot. The chances that he will develop into a superstar are limited, however, though I believe Peterson will be chosen first out of the five players listed here.
- Quentin Richardson (So.
6'6"): If you have not a clue where Peterson will be drafted, neither can you make a solid guess about where Richardson will land. He could be drafted as high as 7 (say the Bulls get a center at 4 and Darius Miles is not available at 7) or as low as the 20's. Regardless, Richardson has the raw ability to be a star. Though not as well-groomed as Peterson, Richardson's potential has not a single limitation. The Clippers would prefer a point guard, but I would wince if Richardson were available at the 18th spot and the Clippers passed him up (unless, of course, it was to take Cleaves or Barkley instead).
- Desmond Mason (Sr.
6'6"): Mason's stock seems to be dropping in the draft which is concerning. Four years in college has allowed Mason to grow into a star, and at Oklahoma St. he proved he could play inside and out, and thus could technically play the two or three position in the NBA. Sacramento, Charlotte, and Utah are all interested in Mason. Though it would be a surprise, I would not be disappointed if the Clippers selected Mason at 18 (or maybe at 30, as some mock drafts have him in the second round).
- Chris Carrawell
(Sr.6'6"): When you talk about the best player available in the middle of the draft that can start right away, Carrawell immediately comes to mind. Four years at Duke has transformed Carrawell into a scorer, but more importantly into a leader. He could go as high as 16, and as low as the mid-20's. The Clippers could wait and hope he stays around to 30, but I do not see them drafting him at 18. However, like with Mason, the Clippers could do a lot worse than drafting Carrawell with the 18th selection.
- DeShawn Stevenson
(H.S. 6'5"): The next Kobe? Maybe. But where will Stevenson be drafted? I could be wrong in saying Peterson will be the first drafted of these five, but only if Stevenson somehow ends up in the lottery. Garnett and Kobe's success outweigh the Leon Smith's of past drafts, and passing on a high school athlete with unlimited potential is tough for a lot of teams. With three picks Orlando may gamble on Stevenson at 10 or 13. Perhaps Sacramento will draft him at 16. Or maybe Stevenson will fall to the second round, a la Rashard Lewis of the Sonics in 1998 (who is now a highly sought after free agent). Regardless, I feel the Clippers should hope he is available at 30 and consider him with that pick rather than take him at 18. But if they take the risk and select Stevenson in the first round, I have to admit that I would be quite excited about the team's possibilities for the future.
VI. My Pick, and Why:
I select Mateen Cleaves with the 18th pick in the 2000 Usenet Mock Draft. I cannot bring myself to take a shooting guard here. The Clippers can fill that area with the 30th pick or with a deal involving Derek Anderson (or if they are lucky even resigning Anderson). The Clippers lacked a consistent point guard last year, and the point is the last position they wish to have a gap at next season.
The reasons I selected Cleaves are as follows: he is a leader, has heart, can start right away at the point guard, and can become a cornerstone of the Clippers team along with Odom for the next
decade. I kind of hoped Crawford would last until here, as big point guards do not come around often. And of course the hype surrounding Crawford makes him an intriguing, but risky pick. And the last thing the Clippers need is a bust. I also had an urge to take Quentin Richardson (I truly think he will be a star), but felt a point guard here was a must.
VII. Who I think the Clippers will Pick
The answer to this question is tough. So many decent athletes will be available at the 18th and 30th pick, such that the Clippers could take a point guard at 18 and know they will get a decent shooting guard at 30, or vice versa. Though not many second-rounders make it big in the NBA, this particular draft, because of the large number of high school stars and underclassmen entering the process, is unusually deep. Still I believe that
Mateen Cleaves will be available at 18, and also that the Clippers will select him with little hesitation. He is the most experienced and capable point guard in the draft and he possesses the desire to win and the leadership qualities that the Clippers are notorious for lacking. The only other scenarios I can picture are Cleaves going at 14 to his hometown Pistons and the Clippers selecting Dooling (or Barkley or Claxton?) at 18. Though other players than Cleaves will be very tempting for Los Angeles at the 18th spot, Cleaves satisfies the key position of point guard - a gap in last year's lineup that the Clippers so desperately need to fill in 2000-2001.
VIII. Conclusion, and Other Moves the Clippers Should Make:
I've already touched on some of the rumors surrounding the Clippers. It is
important that first and foremost the team sign a coach prior to the draft. Clippers' coaches do not last long, but perhaps they could surprise everyone with a selection this time around. I do not believe that John Thompson is the man best suited to coach the Clippers, and would prefer another high profile college coach (or even maybe the recently fired Butch Carter?). Also Mark Jackson apparently wants to be a player-coach, and would be a perfect fit with the Clippers as an assistant and a point guard.
Once the coach is in place and the players selected from the draft are finalized, the Clippers need to make a few moves in free agency. Rumors of Derek Anderson for players like Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Avery Johnson abound, and I believe that the Clippers need to get something in return for a guy as good as Anderson. He can be the second or third scorer on a lot of teams, from the 76ers to the Spurs, so rightfully the Clippers deserve some sort of replacement for Derek. The Clippers thus need to re-sign Anderson with the agreement that he will subsequently be traded to a new team.
Finally, the Clippers need to sign at the minimum one free agent, either a power forward to have around while their draft pick develops or a point guard for the same purpose. If they do not fill one of these gaps in a sign-and-trade deal with Anderson, possibilities include Oakley, Scott Pollard, and other post players. The problem of course is that the Clippers have not recently been able to draw high caliber free-agents. The Clippers, I can say, should go after Duncan, Hill, McGrady, Lewis, Rose, or even Reggie Miller. But these players want to play for a "contender," or at least a team that is not the perennial bottom dweller of the Western Conference. The Clippers thus should play the free agent market, but realistically their chances of signing a star are slim. However the Clippers must sign at least one free agent this summer, as their team needs new blood.
Well, I have written quite a bit. But then as a Clippers' fan, thoughts run through my head daily about what moves the team should make, who they should draft, and how the possibility exists for them to become a playoff team within the next few years. One can only hope that the stigma surrounding the Clippers - a team of lackluster effort, poor execution, terrible ownership, and an organization that cannot win - will disappear if they make the correct personnel decisions in the near future.