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10-year anniversary, but there is no celebration
by Morris O'Kelly / December 12, 2002

Let's start with the facts. The Clippers franchise in all of its various versions (Buffalo Braves, San Diego and Los Angeles Clippers) has a total of five seasons in which they finished above .500. Since their inception in the 1970-71season they've won more than they've lost only five times... and only twice since 1976. If you want to get technical, they were .500 with their 41-41 campaign of 1993; the year after their last trip to the playoffs. In short, winning on any level, for any length of time is an uncommon occurrence in Clipper history. In fact, the franchise has lost 60 or more games in a season 10 times.

When you look at that fact in light of the great NBA players who have worn a Clipper jersey at the beginning or during the prime of their career; it's even more staggering to conceive. The list includes Terry Cummings, Tom Chambers, Adrian Dantley, Ernie DiGregorio, World B. Free, Ron Harper, Mark Jackson, Marques Johnson, Moses Malone, Danny Manning, Bob McAdoo, Randy Smith, Loy Vaught and Bill Walton.

All-Star talent has been as much of the Clipper legacy as their unsuccessful tradition. Some became great after they left the Clipper franchise, but many were great while they were in Clipper uniforms. Something seems to
keep happening over and over again.

Despite 24 top 10 draft picks in their history (11 of which in the top 3), the franchise has never won 50 games. Some of those top picks led to four Rookies of the Year awards in a 10 year span (Cummings, Dantley, DiGregorio, McAdoo) three of which were within five years.

The talent and ability to draft were there. But something seemed to be keeping the franchise from reaching its potential.

In the 80's and 90's the franchise was only known for questionable draft picks or great draft picks that didn't want to play, demanded to be traded or refused to re-sign when they eventually became free agents. Or worse yet, the Clippers did manage to trade them but in highly questionable trades. Some of these draft day names might come to mind and turn some Clipper fans' stomachs for a variety of reasons.

Benoit Benjamin (#3 in 1985)
Byron Scott (#4 in 1983 - traded to Lakers for Norm Nixon)
Reggie Williams, Joe Wolf and Ken Norman (#4, #13 and #19, respectively, in 1987)
Danny Manning #1, Hersey Hawkins #6 (traded to Seattle) in 1988
Danny Ferry (#2 in 1989 - refused to play for the team)
Antonio McDyess (#2 in 1995)

The real irony is their last playoff appearance of 1992 came during this infamous draft pick stretch.

Fast forward 10 years and a new crop of Clipper draft picks have emerged. But by all accounts, this group is different. Not only is the consensus that the Clipper organization 'got it right' with their picks, they even added one of the top point guards in all of the NBA to steer the ship... pardon the pun.

They are so talented that even without the services of arguably their best player, Lamar Odom, they were still forecasted to make the playoffs this season. Why? It's because they are one of the most talented teams from top to bottom in all of the NBA, period. It's unlikely that three out of the five starters for the World Champion Lakers would be able to start for the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers are that talented.

But therein lies the problem. Expectations. There were no other scapegoats anymore. Couldn't blame management for not drafting the right talent or not bringing in quality free agents. The additions of Elton Brand and Andre Miller were outstanding front office moves. Rookie standout Marko Jaric was drafted back in 2000. Clipper management knew, even back then, that Jaric was going to be good.

You couldn't blame it on the coach, per se. Long gone were the relics like Bill Fitch or the 'mistakes' of letting Larry Brown get away. Alvin Gentry is correctly considered a 'player's coach' and more in tune with the younger and younger NBA.

Here is where you can throw in your cliches, any and all of them. 'The time was right', the team was 'ready to take that next step', et. al. The question wasn't if they were going to be good in the future, it was how good
are they now? There was no more future. It was finally time to rightfully expect a winner and to expect it now. The team was easily among the most exciting in the league and their franchise-high 25 sellouts last year while
sharing an arena with the Los Angeles Lakers was no small accomplishment. Last year the Clipper faithful were coming, expecting to be entertained. This year they are coming, expecting to see them win.

At the time of these keystrokes, the Clippers are 9-13 and 5-5 in their last 10. You have to emphasize the last ten games because, with some exceptions, the Clippers are basically healthy. Yes, they had a useless preseason due to injuries, but this team is out of time and excuses. Yes, Michael Olowokandi is having a fine start to his season, but this team is 9-13 bottom line. Marko Jaric has established himself as a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate... But this team is 9-13 and one game out of last place. Five of those losses include fourth quarter or overtime collapses against Philadelphia, Sacramento and the abysmal Cleveland and Denver. If the Clippers win those four games (and they should have) this team is 13-9 and in good shape. In other words, this team has not learned how to win at the very least or possibly is not being taught correctly how.

This is a young team in terms of average age, but by no means can you call this an inexperienced team anymore. No playoff experience, but that's irrelevant if you're not in playoff contention.

The only thing left to do now is ask the players themselves, what is the problem? They are not a team who is outclassed in terms of talent, they're just getting outplayed. But why?

"We want to win badly. There's not one guy on this team who doesn't want to win more than anything. We've had a lot of injuries and it seems like as soon as one comes off [the injured list] another goes on. Corey Maggette
went down right before I come back. Stuff like that."

- Quentin Richardson

"We don't play smart for the whole 48 minutes sometimes. You have guys who like to drive and sometimes they force their shot. In the fourth quarter everything becomes magnified. Maybe sometimes we're out there trying too
hard. I think we need to play more as a team in the last minutes of a game. We need to have a go-to guy and have a clear plan down the stretch. An equal-opportunity offense isn't really the answer."

- Michael Olowokandi

"We're still a little behind teams and learning to play together. That's an ongoing process. There are a lot of new bodies on the court and they're still learning each other. We've been without two starters, sometimes more, virtually every game this year, including preseason. Every team would suffer because of that. We're only as talented as they guys we got suited up. But I'm especially encouraged by what I've seen in the last few games."

- Alvin Gentry

To be fair, the Clippers haven't had their five best players on the court in who knows how long. Elton Brand is just now playing to the level of his ability since his knee surgery. Lamar Odom has just been cleared to practice on a limited level and is still possibly four weeks from returning to action.

One one hand, the impact of the injuries is undeniable. If you don't have your best players, you aren't giving yourself your best chance to win. Yet on the other hand, even without certain players, some of these losses are
simply inexcusable. Not closing out teams at home is also unacceptable. Playoff teams don't lose to the likes of Cleveland or Denver, period. Those losses might make the difference near the end of the season. The real question is whether they will affect this team's playoff seed or keep them out altogether.

Morris O'Kelly is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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