With this afternoon's news that Elton Brand has ruptured his Achilles tendon during his daily workout, the Clippers season is essentially over the day after the schedule was released. Even for a franchise accustomed to misfortune, the loss of Brand during a mundane early August workout, combined with the loss of Shaun Livingston on a routine layup last February, seems particularly cruel. It's especially ironic considering Brand's slow start last season was widely attributed to his tour of duty with the national team in Japan - he chose to bypass Team USA this summer to better prepare for the season, and suffered a major injury during those preparations.
Very little information is available at this time. Here's the press release the team sent out:
Here is a statement from Elgin Baylor an hour or so later:
(Not to nitpick, but isn't that redundant? Doesn't 100% really imply as good as ever?)
It has been reported as a rupture, which is a major injury, make no mistake. He will have surgery, and he will be out for a long time. Probably not the entire season, but a good portion of it. When Voshon Lenard ruptured his Achilles in the first game of the season, Nov. 2 2004, he did not play again until 5 and a half months later, April 18, 2005. A 6 month time table would put EB back on the court just before the All-Star Break.
We've seen how important Elton Brand is to this team the last few years. It is simply not realistic to expect them to be in contention for a playoff spot playing the first half of the season without him.
Now, I've tried to craft this next sentence several times, and it always comes out sounding like Pollyanna. Let me be clear: this injury is NOT GOOD. It's a bad thing. BUT, it does provide an opportunity for Chris Kaman to step up, for Al Thornton to play a lot, maybe even for Yaroslav Korolev to find his game. And it let's Corey Maggette lead the team in scoring (while also leading the team in turnovers and general bonehead plays, but hopefully those will be kept down at least a little). I suppose the last item is only really good for Corey - if he plays well and again averages 20 points a game, he may well command a price in free agency next year when he exercises his option that the Clippers are unwilling to pay.
But knowing from the outset that the season is a lost cause can be liberating - it allows the organization to plan entirely for 2008-2009. What does that mean? Well, for one thing, if Sam Cassell looks even halfway decent, expect him to be dealt to a playoff contender in need of a veteran point guard before the trade deadline. Of course, Sam's in the last year of his deal, so they're not going to want to take back any long term salaries. But if they can get a prospect or even a pick for him, they should do it. This is also the time to deal Mobley if they want to retain Maggette beyond this season.
And there's really no point in signing Brevin Knight now. I mean, who wants a 31-year-old, 5'10" point guard when you've got no hope of making the playoffs this year, and you're expecting Livingston back next year? You take your lumps and save the salary for summer 08. Without Brand, the Clippers are looking at bottom 3 in the West along with the Wolves and Sonics. Meanwhile, many Eastern teams have improved, at least on paper - a top five pick in next year's lottery (O.J. Mayo?) would be a nice consolation.
I must say, this is definitely the earliest I've ever gone into 'Just wait til next year' mode. Danny Manning and Ron Harper went down during the season.
Sometimes it really sucks being a Clipper fan.