For years, the point guard position has been the
Achilles heel weakest link in the Clippers' lineup. I browsed through the rosters for the last several years, intending to compose a funny / pathetic list of names, thinking I'd go back five years or so. But I had to keep going, because each year the names got funnier / more pathetic. It's no secret that point guard is an important and difficult to fill position in the NBA. Unfortunately, the Clippers have traditionally been too inept or too cheap or too unlucky to ever solve the problem for more than a season. Norm Nixon joined the team in 1983 in the last year in San Diego, led the league in assists, made the all star team in 1985 - and the next season he suffered the first of multiple injuries that would end his career. Doc Rivers started 25 games for the team in the early 90s. They traded him for Mark Jackson. Jackson joined the team at the age of 27, 6 seasons into a career that would later see him lead the league in assists and place him second in assists all time. They traded him for Pooh Richardson.
Because it's just so hilarious, here is the full list of point guard starters and point guard reserves for the team since the Pooh Richardson era ended in 1999. It comprises a veritable Hall of Infamy for the point guard profession.
Starting Clipper point guards since 1999:
Sam Cassell, Shaun Livingston, Jason Hart, Daniel Ewing, Marko Jaric, Rick Brunson, Keyon Dooling, Doug Overton, Andre Miller, Jeff McInnis, Earl Boykins, Troy Hudson, Eric Murdock, Darrick Martin and Sherman Douglas.
Other Clipper point guards since 1999:
Will Conroy, Anthony Goldwire, Howard Eisley, Lionel Chalmers, Kenny Anderson, Kirk Penney, Maurice Baker, Randy Livingston, Eldridge Recasner, Charles Jones, Pooh Richardson and James (Hollywood) Robinson.
I mean, who can forget Hollywood Robinson? Nine NBA seasons. 15 different starters. 27 different point guards on the roster. I'm sure you could come up with a similarly dubious list if you went through the roster of another NBA team for nine seasons, but without going to all that work, I still have to guess that this one is the wackiest.
Especially the starters. I mean, sure the team picked up Kenny Anderson for a few days in 2005, and Howard Eisley and Anthony Goldwire in 2006. But Rick Brunson started a total of 51 games in his 9 year NBA career, and 39 of those were during a single season with the Clippers while the team was struggling to make the playoffs. Darrick Martin has 178 career starts in 12 NBA seasons - 152 of them were in three seasons in the Sports Arena. Jason Hart, Doug Overton, Eric Mudock, Sherman Douglas... the list of thoroughly uninspiring players who've gotten significant burn as the Clippers starting point guard is surreal.
Of course injuries have played their part in this melodrama. Rick Brunson was never meant to be more than the emergency third string point, but injuries to Shaun Livingston (missed 52 games), Marko Jaric (missed 32 games) and Kerry Kittles (missed 71 games, moving Jaric over to the 2) forced him into the starting role. The same is true of Jason Hart. Brunson and Hart did yeoman's work - but these are 12th men in any reasonable NBA universe.
It is interesting to note that until 2004, the Clippers could barely be bothered to address the point guard situation via the draft. They acquired Gary Grant (15th pick) in a draft day deal in 1988 and Dooling (10th pick) in 2000, and their experiment with Randy Woods (16th in 1992) failed miserably. But those were the only first round picks they spent on point guards in 20 years. Jaric, Chalmers, Ewing, Guillermo Diaz, Jared Jordan - they love taking flyers on second rounders, but you get what you pay for. In 2004, they splurged and spent the 4th overall pick on Livingston. 18 years old and widely considered the best straight to the NBA high school point guard ever, they were sure they finally had the answer. Four injuries later, they're not so sure.
It's very early of course, but in direct contrast to their history, the Clippers appear to have an embarrassment of riches at the point this season. This is a rather astonishing development, given how bleak their prospects looked at the end of last season. Not that anyone is likely to make the All Star team, but Sam Cassell looks healthy again, and Brevin Knight as a backup is a luxury that the team has not had in a very long time, if ever. Consider - the Clipper tradition is to take career backups like Brunson and Martin and turn them into starters. Brevin Knight is a career starter (384 starts in 581 NBA games) playing backup. Knight is arguably a better, more accomplished point guard than all but two of the 28 players on the list above (Cassell and Andre Miller would rank higher - and of course we still hope that Livingston will eventually surpass him). And Dan Dickau, while still a bit of an unknown quantity in the NBA, is much more palatable to me than Hart or Brunson or Overton or any number of guys who've been starting (a lot) in recent years. He was certainly a much more accomplished college player than any of those guys.
And we're still expecting to get Livingston back this season.
Of course, given Cassell's age and Knight's injury history, it's entirely possible that Dickau will be pressed into starter duty just as much as Brunson and Hart were. Then we'll see how palatable he is.
Hopefully there's no really dark cloud in the center of this silver lining. Cassell's rumblings about fourth quarter minutes represent a common problem the Clippers have seen at other positions, but rarely at the point - too much talent. Hopefully the lines of communication are open in a way that they never seemed to be with Maggette last season. If MDsr says he wants to keep Cassell in the 20's, and Cassell says he's in good enough shape to play 30, well, can someone just step in and explain that 29 is still in the 20's but really close to 30, and therefore we're not that far apart here. Besides, I just have to believe that a persuasive person can present this as an entirely positive development - the team won two games without overtaxing the soon to be 38 Cassell. If you figure that Sam's body has a finite number of minutes left in it, playing 23 minutes in the first two games just leaves more in the tank for a really close and demanding fourth quarter, undoubtedly in the near future.
If Shaun Livingston can come back and become the player we all envision, I love the idea of Brevin Knight being the backup here for next season and beyond, and maybe Dickau will pan out as well. Cassell is unlikely to be back, but even so, I actually like the Clippers' point guard situation going forward. Though it all depends on Livingston.