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One More Thing That Went Wrong

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We're Clipper fans.  Whether or not you believe in any sort of curse, there is at a minimum a fair amount of bad luck following the team, and we accept that.  Without question, the front office has been less than stellar during the team's SoCal history, but bad draft picks and parsimony only explain a portion of the misery we've experienced since 1978.  (I won't go back to the Buffalo history, but there are those who feel that all the sports teams from that city are cursed, and only Scott Norwood would dispute that.)

When Elton Brand ruptured his Achilles tendon, David Friedman helpfully (and sadistically) recapped the history of devastating Clipper injuries.  I suppose one could argue that the team has some responsibility for evaluating a player's durability and injury-potential - certainly it's not a complete shock that the rail thin Shaun Livingston has had injury issues since joining the NBA at the age of 18, and Bill Walton was already injured when the Clippers acquired him, so you could hang some of the injury problems on the front office.   But not all of them.  There are a lot of major injuries to key players on that list, and no matter how you look at it, it's more than our share of bad luck.

In the past, I myself have mused on the contrast between the Clippers lottery luck (and timing) versus that of the mighty Spurs.  In 23 years now, the Spurs have gotten two number one overall picks in three trips to the lottery, resulting in David Robinson and Tim Duncan.  The Clippers have gotten two number one overall picks in 19 trips to the lottery, resulting in Danny Manning (see above) and Michael Olowokandi.  And before you point out that the Kandi Man was a monumentally bad pick, you need to know that any other team with the number one pick that year would have chosen him.  Sometimes you get the number one pick when the consensus top two players are Tim Duncan and Keith Van Horn; sometimes you get it when the consensus top two players are Greg Oden and Kevin Durant; and sometimes you get it when the consensus top two players are Michael Olowokandi and Mike Bibby.  

In obsessive compulsive fashion, I noticed another unlikely misfortune that has recently befallen the Clippers.  Two seasons ago when the Clippers traded Marko Jaric and Lionel Chalmers for Sam Cassell and a protected first round pick, it was widely and correctly hailed as a major coup for Elgin Baylor.  When Sam Cassell opened the season with 35 points and looked as good as ever even at age 36, it became almost unfair.  Cassell AND a first rounder!  Wow.

Of course, that first round pick was top 10 protected, but these were KG's Wolves we were talking about.  Although they had missed the playoffs in 2005, they nonetheless won 44 games and drafted 15th.  They still had Garnett, and that had been a guaranteed trip to the playoffs since 'Da Kid' was 20.  In 2004 they'd been to the Conference Finals with Cassell at the point.  In 2003, they won 51 games and might have beaten the Lakers in the playoffs with Troy Hudson (!) at the point, if only Hudson hadn't gotten injured.  There was no way a Garnett team was going to finish in the bottom 10 in the league.  It literally had not happened since his rookie year.  In fact, I doubt that Elgin even tried to negotiate the point.  It's a somewhat unusual protection clause.  Usually, the protected rounds diminish with time - top 10 protected in 2006, top 8 in 2007, top 5 in 2008, something like that.  As it happens, this pick is top 10 protected through 2011!  Six drafts!  Meaning that by the time the Cassell trade is completed, it's possible that a player born in 1969 will be traded with a player born in 1993.  But Elgin probably didn't want to rock the boat, recognizing that Cassell for Jaric was a steal already, and that Garnett would be enough to keep the Wolves out of the bottom 10, so the whole 2011 thing must have seemed like a moot point.

So what happens?  In 2006 the Wolves go out and win 33 games - their first losing season in 8 years.  In 2007, they won 32 games.  Now, with Garnett in Boston, replaced in Minnesota by Al Jefferson and a bunch of similarly inconsequential spare parts, the Wolves appear to be locked into the bottom 10 for the foreseeable future.  If they can manage to stay horrible long enough, LA will at least be rewarded with a high draft pick eventually.  But a suitably Clipperian ending to this story would have a Wolves team led by Jerome Richmond (currently 15) winning 55 games in the 11-12 season and the Clippers receiving the 24th pick in the 2012 draft.

So start scouting those 14 year olds.