For nearly every phase of Clippers history, the team has had multiple promising young prospects. To call Terry Cummings just another Clippers prospect, however, would be a disservice to the production he had in a Clipper uniform. Even within a franchise that has a been revolving door for young talent — at least before the Lob City days — Cummings stands out from the crowd.
The best Clipper to ever wear no. 34, Cummings was the second pick in the 1982 NBA Draft out of DePaul (this franchise certainly has a fondness Chicago basketball players), right after James Worthy. From the moment the Clippers selected him, Cummings’ tenure with the team was anything but smooth sailing. Donald Sterling had bought the team the year before and was already ridiculed around the league. He held training camp at a naval base and made the players do their own laundry. As a result, Cummings’ agent tried to negotiate a one-year deal to get his client out as soon as possible, but the two sides eventually agreed to a four-year contract during the preseason.
Despite the off-court shenanigans, Cummings handily won Rookie of the Year with averages of 23.7 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.8 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game. He won every Rookie of the Month award but one. Back when the Rookie of the Year ballot only had one name, Cummings earned 60 of the 74 total votes, easily defeating second-place Clark Kellogg.
He had the 12th-highest scoring average in the league, but his head coach was most pleased with his guard skills (from the SI Vault).
“He’s really surprised me with his ballhandling,” says Clipper Coach Paul Silas. “If we have problems bringing the ball up, we just clear the way and let Terry do it.”
Cummings missed the last two weeks of the regular season with heartbeat irregularities, and the Clippers lost every game he sat out, proving his value to the team even as a rookie.
His individual stats remained essentially constant in his second season, and the Clippers improved by five wins to 30 overall, despite losing forward Tom Chambers in the offseason. Cummings averaged 22.9 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in year two.
Cummings’ scoring average in his rookie season is the ninth-highest in franchise history, and his sophomore average is no. 10, though Kawhi Leonard was on pace to knock that off the list this year. Cummings is also on the top-10 single-season lists for field goals made and offensive rebounds.
On top of all of his on-court success, Cummings was an ordained preacher in addition to being an NBA player.
Alas, the Clippers traded away Cummings after his second season in a ridiculously lopsided trade with the Milwaukee Bucks to get Marques Johnson. Johnson had two good seasons left while Cummings excelled in Milwaukee and San Antonio for nearly a decade. But Sterling wanted to win sooner, and the team improved to 31 wins in 1985, and then 32 in 1986. Progress.
Despite playing only two years for the franchise, Cummings is easily the best Clipper to wear no. 34, with apologies to Tobias Harris. If you’re interested, Curtis Harris did a great deep dive on Cummings for his ProHoopsHistory newsletter.