I still remember jumping up and down when I read the report that Baron Davis agreed to a multi-year deal with the Clippers this summer. Finally, I thought...a player skilled enough AND charismatic enough to steal some of the Los Angeles limelight from hallway series superstar rival Employee No.24. What a coup! Pair BD with Kaman, Brand, and Maggette and the three supremely promising rooks MDSr picked up in the draft and we got ourselves a ball club. Hurrah! Then Brand shows his true colors and bolts out of town along with Magette (good riddance). MDSr, wanting to turn negative into positive then orchestrated the most ambitious rebuilding project seen in professional sports in recent memory--jettisoning basically everybody who wore a Clipper Jersey last season, except for Kaman, Mobley, Thomas, and Thornton. Somewhere along the way, he stole Camby from the Nuggets and signed a proven scorer in Ricky Davis, who is still in his prime at a mere 29 y.o. And last, but not least, Baron reportedly shed a lot of weight before the season started. Think of it: A healthy, FASTER, Baron Davis leading the charge of more talented players coming into the new season. And then the losing started.
I sighed knowing that Mobley and Thomas were too overpaid to be let go as easily along with everyone else. Mobley, at least, was a true professional who was a solid citizen better relegated to the mentor role and primary backup to EJ. When Mobley woke up one morning and made a conscious decision to focus on defense and let the offense take of itself, he plays probably the most inspired game of his Clipper career (which, unfortunately, was also his last NBA game). Before the team could take that momentum and build on it, he was traded, along with Tim Thomas (hurrah!) to New York. So we were short handed for at several games as the deals were finalized. When the dust settled, we had a younger, more gifted scorer standing where EB used to stand. Maybe he couldn't...no...DIDN'T WANT TO defend opposing players...but he was nightmare for other players to guard in his own right. Kaman defending, rebounding, blocking shots and Randolph able to step away from basket and allow Kaman to operate while dishing his own damage to opposing teams...wow. We were going to be scary for opposing teams. And I hadn't even considered how Camby and Randolph would dominate as well. Then Kaman goes down. (Later followed by Randolph and Camby).
And, of course, Mardy Collins was just a throw-in. But he didn't turn out to be just a throw-in. The guy can actually play sound, fundamental basketball--moving about the court as purposefully/methodically as a certain former Clipper point guard now starting for the 76ers. Fred Jones gets added to the team...and he's not washed up...! The talent in the roster is just OOZING. It takes a little while but the experiment seems it was starting to work when we blow out Memphis and Atlanta. Then NOTHING. The Allstar Break comes and goes and we're still gimping along. Aside from the inspired win against the defending champs, what've we got? The last couple of games we get embarrassed by the Spurs. Fair enough--that team has a long history of embarrassing other teams. But we got embarrassed by the Kings and the Grizzlies. WTF? Really...WTF?
Ok. So there are the bright spots such as Mike Taylor, DJ, and Eric Gordon. Thornton seems to have a high ceiling as well...but where is this team headed? What is the identity of this team? The veterans we have (mostly in their upper 20's and early 30's) seem to indicate we are a mid to low rank playoff team with young talent we are developing to take over in the next few years. But this season has shown that we are clearly not that. We look around the league at Portland, the Grizzlies, the Thunder, and maybe even the Kings and we see a group that is clearly rebuilding: accepting that they will be getting their assess handed to them night in and night out but staying firm in their belief that they will take one step back now to take two steps forward later by investing in the development of their young talent. Our young talent (except for Gordon) sit on the bench while the vets rack up the minutes and experience--ultimately leading to the same place in the end: THE NBA LOTTERY. I hope team management realizes that the organization really cannot run before it learns to walk. No...before the team learns to crawl. I'm pleading with MDSr...as if he ever reads this stuff... When players get healthy...check out your experiment for a couple of quarters during the remaining games...but then have the guts to sit your vets and let the kids play. Encourage the vets to observe where they younger players could improve and encourage them to help those players reach their potential. Do this and next season we could be that mid to low rank playoff team...but with a much more confident and productive bench. Oh. And please jettison Ricky Davis while you're at it.