After years of standing pat, the Clippers finally made a number of savvy deals to turn the franchise around. Just kidding--these are the Clippers, after all. Hence another edition of their familiar off-season routine: Allow a rising star (Quentin Richardson) to leave, then bring in a less promising, and inevitably temporary, replacement (Kerry Kittles, whose contract expires after this season). The result: same old Clippers, same exciting lottery appearance next June.
But rather than dwell on the team's ineptitude, let's focus instead on Chris Kaman, L.A.'s second-year center out of Central Michigan. Kaman is tall (7 feet), sturdy (265 pounds) and likes to work on cars (and single, ladies). He can run the floor and finish in transition, and he spent the summer improving his 15- to 17-foot jump shot. Coach Mike Dunleavy calls him "fearless" and lauds his ball handling, consistent effort and "high basketball IQ." If Kaman continues to develop, Dunleavy thinks he could be another Brad Miller, only more athletic.
Kaman, a native of Grand Rapids, Mich., doesn't have any tattoos, doesn't like rap because the swearing can "pervert your mind" and doesn't have a big ego--in spite of being recognized, in his estimation, "at least once or twice" last summer. He's even proud of his team. Sort of. "You have to understand, it's not like I've experienced winning in the NBA," he says. "All I know is losing." What about his friends in Michigan? Do they give him grief for being a Clipper? "No," he says. "My boys back home don't play in the NBA, many of them didn't even play Division I, so they're not going to get on me no matter what team I play on."
And there you have it, the best thing about the Clippers: At least they're in the NBA. --C.B.
ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Clippers
In 23 years of ownership Donald T. Sterling has had one--one!--winning season. Expect more of the same.... A lot of people think Shaun Livingston could be the next Magic Johnson, but you don't want to throw him to the wolves this year; he's straight out of high school, he's a skinny 6'7", 175 pounds and he isn't a good shooter. But they'll probably do just that because Marko Jaric is not a good point guard. He's a poor ball handler, and if you go at him and force him to make a decision, he's very often going to make the wrong one.... They're also hurting at shooting guard. Kerry Kittles has been out rehabbing his right knee, which means Jaric is going to have to shift to that position as well. Trajan Langdon isn't a solution.... They're so thin because they actively trimmed salary in a vain attempt to sign Kobe Bryant over the summer. It was a no-lose situation for Sterling: Though he failed to get Kobe, he now has a low payroll, which is just the way he likes it.... Their starting front line looks decent. Chris Kaman gets pushed around a lot, but he's fairly mobile and he's tough. Elton Brand is one of the steadiest players in the league; he's always good for around 20 points and 10 rebounds, routinely beats his defender down the court and last year ranked 10th in blocked shots. I'm interested in how he performs under pressure, because I hear that he doesn't react well in the final minute of closegames.... Corey Maggette is as wild as can be. He gets to the line more than anyone, but that's because he puts his head down and bulldozes to the basket. He doesn't know a good shot from a bad one and doesn't make anyone better, because he thinks it's all about him.
The only teammates to rank among the top 15 in free throws made last season were Corey Maggette (a league-high 526) and Elton Brand (411, fourth).
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003--04 statistics
Record: 28--54 (14th in West)
Points scored: 94.8 (9th in NBA)
Points allowed: 99.4 (27th)
Coach: Mike Dunleavy
(second season with the Clippers)
KERRY KITTLES [NEW ACQUISITION]
NEW ACQUISITION (R) Rookie (statistics for final high school season) *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH