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The Maggette-dendum

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I've been thinking about Corey Maggette's situation a lot lately.  No, it's not going to be another Maggette-festo, but there's enough going on here to rant for awhile.  Call it the Maggette-dendum.

If you've got a couple hours, you can review the Maggette-festo for a recap of the last few years.  But suffice it to say, none of us thought that Corey Maggette would be a Clipper after last February's trade deadline, yet here he is, expected to be the number one option on offense in the absence of Elton Brand.  Of course, it wasn't that long ago that Maggette led the Clippers in scoring, even with a healthy Brand on the roster.  

To have Ralph Lawler mentioning Corey as a potential all star seems incongruous, given the fact that Ralph has not been Maggette's biggest supporter the last several years.  But the simple fact remains - Corey has averaged over 20 points a game as a starter for basically four seasons now, he's going to be a starter this year, and he's certainly going to get more touches with Brand gone.  And before we devolve into the 'anyone can score 20 points a game' argument, let's bear in mind that Corey is NOT your typical 'shoot enough and the points will come' scorer.  Because of his propensity for getting to the free throw line (and converting once he's there) his effective shooting percentage has been incredibly consistent for the past 4 seasons (.583 in 06-07, .581, .574 and .586 in the seasons prior) and is always among the league leaders.  His eFG% is in fact higher than Brand's and was the same as Dwyane Wade's last season.  He may be out of control at times, but he's not a classic 'chucker.'  The man finished close to 17 points per game last season, despite the limited minutes and unlimited distractions.  Is 23 or 24 points per game really out of the question?  Scoring may be overrated, but the 10 players that averaged 24+ ppg last season all made the all star team.

And yet, it remains unclear whether Maggette fits into the Clippers long term plans.  For most of last season, the assumption was that he did not fit at all.  During Allen Iverson trade talks, MDsr pointedly stated that only Brand, Kaman and Livingston were untouchable.  Since that time, the signals have been decidedly mixed.  Donald Sterling loves Maggette (the longest tenured Clipper, an athlete who puts fans in seats, and a hard worker) - shares in CMLAC are up.  
MDsr is less enthusiastic, yet totally changed his approach to Corey the final two months of last season - stock closes unchanged.  Clippers choose an athletic small forward with the 14th pick in the June draft - CMLAC stock declines.  Elton Brand is hurt - it's back up.  Clippers offer the maximum extension allowed under the Collective Bargaining Agreement - the stock is through the roof.  Corey turns it down, preferring to become a free agent after this season - nobody knows what it means.

About that extension offer - on one level, it's hard to blame Corey and agent Rob Pelinka for turning it down.  He's not quite 28, and the restrictions placed on extensions will not apply to a new free agent deal next summer.  If his stats return to 03-05 levels as a starter, there's little question that he's underpaid by NBA standards in his current deal ($7.8M this season).  BUT, take a look at this past summer's free agent market.  By my count, a grand total of two players changed teams for salaries as high as the $8.5 starting salary Corey just turned down (Rashard Lewis and Darko Milicic).  That's partially a function of the number of teams with cap space, but as of now, it looks like Charlotte, Atlanta and Seattle are the only teams looking to have significant space next summer, and they're all loaded with young wings (lots can change quickly here of course).  So if Corey was planning on making a killing going to another team as a free agent, he could be disappointed.  This is good news for Citizens of ClipsNation who want Corey to remain in LA - the Clippers are one of only a few teams who can pay him what he wants.  But it may come at a cost, if contract negotiations become contentious.

So he's the focal point on offense, and was just offered a contract in the neighborhood of $30M for 3 years, but it's still far from clear if he'll be with the team next season, or even by the end of this season.  Part of this uncertainty is of course a result of the dysfunction from last season - it just FEELS like Corey isn't going to be here.  But the drafting of Al Thornton certainly contributes to the confusion.

There's also the matter of salary cap economics.  You simply can't re-sign everybody, and Corey's at that point in his career where teams often decide that they can't afford a player, even if they like him.  I would not have been surprised if that had been what the Clippers decided in this case, but then they went and offered him the extension.  Color me confused.

All this to say, this is going to be a fascinating subplot to this Clippers season.  How does Corey perform as the first option on offense?  Does he lead the league in free throws made?  Or does he lead the league in turnovers?  Or both?  And then there are all the external factors exerting force.  How does Quinton Ross perform this season (an unrestricted free agent next summer)?  How does Al Thornton perform?  Are the Clippers going to re-sign two free agent wings with a lottery pick there also?  And the team's performance will be paramount.  If they pull a Grizz, go directly into the tank and finish with the worst record in the Western Conference (as many have predicted) then a house-cleaning is likely.  And what of the injured players?  Brand is pretty much a given, but Shaun Livingston is going to be a restricted free agent.  How much of Donald's money will he end up taking?  If he plays for two months and looks great, he'll sign a significant contract, leaving less for Maggette.  Lots of moving parts here, folks.

A final thought - the Clippers have eight potential free agents on their roster, including five of their top eight when healthy.  We all remember what happened the last time so many free-agents-to-be played on the same Clippers roster - the team regressed from 39 wins to 27 wins, and only two out of six key free agents returned.  Those two?  Corey Maggette and Elton Brand, who can both opt out this season.  

A subject worthy of another post.