It's getting a little depressing around here, I'll admit it. What with Cassell gone, Brand and Livingston still out and Kaman hurt (and sick and missing before that)... well, there's just not much to be excited about.
Here's a current pulse on your 2007-2008 Clippers:
- Ruben Patterson - Waived by the Clippers in December, he is so much in demand in the NBA that no one has picked him up. Particularly strange given that several teams ostensibly need to stop Kobe at some point in the near future. The 327 minutes he played for the Clippers this season are, sadly, 327 minutes of my life I'm not going to get back.
- Richie Frahm - Ruben's replacement for 10 games. He was brought in as a shooter, and made 7 of his first 17 threes with the club. Then he missed his next 8, and, well, no guaranteed contract for you.
- Guillermo Diaz - A second round pick in 2007, he was waived in camp, but then brought up from the D League after Frahm was waived. In consecutive 10 day contracts, he played 18 minutes of NBA basketball and then was waived again. Why we didn't get a better look at the guy is anybody's guess.
- Sam Cassell - The starting point guard when healthy, he missed 16 out of 55 games and was limited in a couple others. Basically, he was out a third of the time. And maybe we should never have expected more from a 38 year old. While he was on the floor, he was still one of the best offensive players on the team. His PER this season was third best on the team at 17.12 (barely behind Kaman's 17.48). For those of you who subscribe to such things, 15 is the magical midpoint in PER land. The Clippers just waived one of three players on this season's team with an above average PER. So there's that.
- Paul Davis - Last year's second round pick looked great in pre-season on the pick and pop. Then the real games started and he looked lost for the first month of the season. Then he made 5 of 6 against Miami on Dec. 9 and 5 of 7 against the Lakers a week later, and it seemed as it he might be able to help a Clippers team that desperately needed someone to rebound and score just a little. Two games later he tore his ACL, ending his season and likely ending his Clipper tenure.
- Nick Fazekas - Given the other entries on this list, Nick Fazekas may be the 3rd most intriguing Clipper in March and April, after Al Thornton and Chris Kaman. The 34th pick in the draft, he was a D League All Star this season before getting waived by Dallas in the numbers crunch of the Kidd trade. With nothing else to play for, there's no reason not to give the guy a good long look in the next few weeks.
- Flip Murray (soon to be signed) - In November 2003, he averaged 25 points in the first 11 games filling in for Ray Allen and was a key contributor for the Sonics all season. Unfortunately, that was the high point of his career, and he never got much traction in Cleveland or Detroit. Still, he can score, and that just isn't true of too many guys on the Clippers so he'll be a welcome sight in March and April.
The Woefully One-Dimensional (at best)
- Aaron Williams - In his 14th season in the league, Williams has played fewer minutes for the team (265) than anyone who is (a) still on the roster and (b) hasn't had major surgery. And frankly, it was 265 minutes too many. He should not be here, he should not be about, he should not be here when our Elton is out.
- Josh Powell - Powell is a semi-bright spot. He's proving to be a serviceable big. He's a good rebounder and a decent defender. I'm not convinced that he can hit a 15 footer, but unfortunately he's not convinced that he can't. He's shooting 41% on the season - easily the worst percentage of his brief and uneventful career. The truth of the matter is that Josh Powell is no better than the 12th man on a decent team, and probably should spend a fair amount of time on the inactive list as the 13th or 14th man - and that's more or less where he would have been if the season had gone differently. The fact that he's been forced to start seven games tells you a lot.
- Dan Dickau - The only Clipper available to play in all 55 games so far - he's also the only Clipper not to have started a single one. Which hardly seems fair. Theoretically the insurance point guard who can score, as opposed to Brevin Knight, he's shooting 37% on the season, 30% from three. Pound for pound, one of the best basketball players around. But he's not playing in an under 180 league. He might be acceptable as the third string point guard on a real team - but he'll be 30 in September, and it would seem that it would make more sense to find someone with more upside.
- Brevin Knight - Ostensibly the yin to Dickau's yang, he was supposed to be the good defensive point guard who could also take care of the ball and run the offense. The fact that he's never really been able to shoot would be mitigated by the other positives he brings with him. Well, you have to do a LOT of positive things to make up for 38% shooting on WIDE OPEN 15 FOOTERS. He does have the second best assist to turnover ratio in the NBA. That and $3.85 will get you a triple grande non-fat latte at the Starbucks. Having low turnovers is great - I'd rather have that than high turnovers. But he can't make a shot, and he doesn't penetrate - which means he's standing on the perimeter passing the ball around. Which he does really, really well. As for the defense, the steals are great, and he is sneaky on the blind side and in the passing lanes. But if he was ever a really good on ball defender, that day is passed.
- Quinton Ross - Q is who he is. Bill Simmons recently said that Q has no value on a bad team. And he's right. On the floor with 2 great scorers and 2 good scorers, he has a role. On the floor with the rest of the Generic Clippers, he's a liability. He is a terrific defender, there is no question about that. Last season, when he made 47% of his shots, he was just good enough on offense to keep defenses honest. This season, the defenses are quite deceitful He's shooting a career low 39% (notice a pattern?) and missed 21 in a row at one point in January.
- Cuttino Mobley - A career 43.1% shooter, he's shooting 43.3% this season. Career 86.6% from the line, he's shooting 86.7%. 39.4% is among his better seasons shooting the three. He's fine. He's solid. But after opening the season with 21 points in game 1 and 33 points in game 3, including every big bucket when the Clippers needed them, his season high since is an even 20 - reached 3 times. The early talk was of the Houston Mobley, the aggressive scorer of his first few seasons in the league (he went for 21.7 per game in 01-02). And indeed the offensively challenged Clippers desperately needed that punch. Alas, he's averaging 13 points per game - way below his career average and his lowest scoring season as a Clipper, if you can believe that. He's fine. He may bore me to death with two more seasons as the Clippers shooting guard, but he's fine.
- Tim Thomas - As a player who once signed a near maximum contract, you might think that Tim Thomas has had a handful of big scoring seasons over the years. Well, believe it or not, 07-08 is currently tied for the 2nd best scoring season in Tim Thomas' career. He's another player who is pretty much who he is - although he's not shooting the three nearly as well this year as he has in the past. At times he looks great - which makes all those other times all the more frustrating.
- Al Thornton - Al is becoming widely accepted as the third best player from this draft behind Durant and Horford. Dave McMenamin on NBA.com went so far as to say he is 'in the hunt' for Rookie of the Year. He's proven he can score. He's even starting to rebound some. The bar is not real high, but he has the same number of rebounds per minute this season as Tim Thomas, though Al is really a small forward. It's also important to note that Thornton is getting better in almost all categories - his February averages of 16 points and 6 rebounds are easily his best month, and his shooting percentage in 2008 is a respectable 46%, despite some really bad nights thrown in there. He lacks consistency now, but that should come. Hard to ask for more from the 14th pick - he's a keeper, and has a chance to be special.
- Corey Maggette - He's always been a good scorer because of his relentless attacking and his knack for getting to the free throw line. This season, especially since the new year, he's hitting his jump shot. And when defenders have to honor his jump shot, their lives become very difficult. He's also a good rebounder for a small forward, and playing better defense than he has in recent years. Of course, it may all simply be the contract year push to get a big payday with someone else, in which case it does the Clippers no good.
- Chris Kaman - I find it strange that Kaman is no longer getting prominently mentioned as a Most Improved Player candidate. He's still third in the league in rebounding and third in the league in blocked shots. These are not minor accomplishments. It's a testament to how great he has been that he's still among the league leaders after a decidedly sub-par February. With just one game left (a game he will likely miss), he's had 2 double-doubles in the month - after posting 10 in November, 14 in December, and 7 in January. He needs to get healthy and finish out the season strong, hopefully side by side with Elton Brand.
So, like I said, on the whole a depressing list of names, right?
I was struck while watching the Celtics game that the old cliche little used doesn't really apply to anyone on the Clippers this season. Little used Gabe Pruitt got onto the floor in the final quarter of the blowout - he played 10 minutes and is up to 69 on the season. But even Yaroslav Korolev would have been forced into duty for the Clippers this season. Everybody but Dickau has started, and Dickau has been the closer in at least a dozen games. What's so sad is that there are so many 30-somethings being forced into big minutes, instead of promising 22 year olds.
But I'm here to tell you that although this season has been a disaster, it never had much of a chance to be anything else. Furthermore, it doesn't matter a bit. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the season was over when Brand's Achilles popped in August. Since then, the most important things have all gone right. Kaman, Thornton, Brand and Livingston are the keys. Cassell was never going to be here next season. Maggette's performance is a double-edged sword - he may look like someone the Clippers want to keep, but he's also making himself very attractive to others, so at the very least the price could go up if he can be retained at all. Still, if Sterling has any chance to convince Baylor to keep him (over MDsr's objections, no doubt), it's after this season, when Maggette and MDsr are more likely to be relatively at peace with one another.
That's not to say that there aren't problems. Just because Cassell was going to be gone, doesn't mean that the Clippers won't miss him. They're 5-11 in games he hasn't played this season, which is not significantly different than their record in games with him. But the offense certainly has looked better with him on the floor. And questions abound not just about Livingston's recovering knee, but also about his injury history in general, not to mention that he's never been a full time starter in the NBA. So there are issues.
But I'm saying that this miserable season (and it figures to stay miserable for awhile at least) has little to do with those issues.
If I could have used a time machine to go from the August 2007 Brand injury forward to the June 2008 draft, I would want be looking for just a few things as I climbed out of the DeLorean:
- Al Thornton first team all rookie team.
- Chris Kaman worth his contract.
- Brand back at full strength.
- Livingston back at full strength.
If upon emerging in June 2008, I had found out that Mike Miller was a Clipper, that would have been great. But there was no reason to think that was a significant possibility back in August, so it was never a realistic expectation.
Likewise, I suppose I could wish for Kaman to be first team all-NBA, but that wasn't realistic. In fact, hoping for top 3 in rebounding and blocked shots would have been asking for way too much, but that's what I got.
Losing Cassell for nothing is unfortunate, to be sure. But his salary still comes off the books, and the team was never going to get a lot for him regardless. I've made a big deal about wanting a second round pick for him. What are they realistically going to get with a second round pick?
And Maggette is not gone yet. Very few teams have significant cap space this summer, and I don't see Corey fitting in Philadelphia or Memphis. Would he be willing to sign for the mid-level exception after the best season of his career, at the age of 28? He's opting out in order to get paid, not to take a pay cut. It's looking increasingly as it Corey is going to have to play for the Clippers, or participate in a sign-and-trade, in order to get the payday he wants. In that sense, his outstanding season may yet benefit the Clippers, as teams who can't afford to sign him outright may be willing to give up something in order to get him.
And then there's that draft pick. It figures to be around 6 or 7 in what appears to be a pretty good draft. And there's always the chance that the Clippers move up, though I'm not counting on it by any means.
Tim Thomas and Cat Mobley can be solid members of a very good basketball team. Imagine a team where Thomas was the fourth or fifth scoring option, and not the second? Brevin Knight and Quinton Ross (if he is re-signed) can likewise have limited roles on a good team (but please, never on the court at the same time).
I'm trying to keep in perspective. That awful 31% shooting game Wednesday night didn't hurt the Clippers in 08-09 - it helped them. Obviously, it's a little brutal to watch lately. If Kaman can get back on the court soon, it won't be quite so ugly. And if Brand or Livingston can get back out there, then we'll have something to cheer about.
It's been a bad season. But pretty much everything has gone right. Now, if I can just get my flux capacitor working.