As a Suns forwardlast season, Tim Thomas helped eliminate both the Lakers and the Clippers fromthe playoffs. Yet five months later he was donning a blue jersey with losangeles etched on it and smiling for a couple of flashing cameras on a practicecourt in nearby El Segundo. "I was Public Enemy Number 1 around here duringthe playoffs," says the 6'10" Thomas, who averaged 15.1 points and 7.0rebounds against the Staples Center tenants during the postseason beforesigning a four-year, $24 million deal with the Clippers. "But now I want to[play just as well] for the home team. I love L.A."
The acquisition ofThomas was yet another indication of the Clippers' changed culture. They usedto be quick to show players the door when their contracts expired and turninstead to minimum-salary players or retreads. But now they are re-signing moreof their own free agents and replacing the ones who depart with comparable--ifnot better--talent. "If I went into a coma five years ago, and I woke upand saw this Clippers team, I would say something's f------ wrong," sayspoint guard Sam Cassell, who re-upped with the team in July after leading L.A.to its first playoff series win in 30 years. "Things have changed aroundhere."
One thing theClippers hope won't change is the hot hand of Thomas, 29, who led Phoenix with48 three-pointers during the playoffs, celebrating many of them by waving hisright palm in front of his face as a nod to his rapper pals in G-Unit. Says hisnew teammate Corey Maggette, "I want to see a lot of that thisyear."
Projected StartingLineup with 2005--06 statistics
Record: 47--35(5th in West)
Points scored:97.2 (17th in NBA)
Points allowed:95.6 (11th)
(fourth seasonwith the Clippers)
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Clippers
Will Sam Cassellbe the same player he was last year? If not, they have an emerging superstar inShaun Livingston, who reminds me of Magic Johnson when he drives into thepaint. He has a long, quick first step with a nice crossover move, his body isfilling out and his defense took a big jump.... One of Elton Brand's failingsused to be that he didn't make clutch shots, but he's improved and should getmore MVP consideration. Put it this way: If the Lakers offered Kobe Bryant forBrand, I would tell owner Donald Sterling not to do it. It's harder to replacethe effort and production Brand gives you at power forward than the scoringBryant provides on the wing.... Chris Kaman's season put him on the verge ofbecoming one of the top five centers in the league. He doesn't get that kind ofrespect because he looks so goofy, but he's a great complement to Brand withhis rebounding and opportunistic play around the basket.... I believe therumors that Mike Dunleavy can't stand Corey Maggette, but I would cautionagainst a trade. We all fear Maggette as a scorer.
The Clippersranked first in the league in blocked shots (503) and second in rebounds(3,532, one fewer than the league-leading Heat). No other team made the topfive in both categories.
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