|Sun Sports HD|
|Jameer Nelson||PG||Brevin Knight|
|Maurice Evans||SG||Quinton Ross|
|Hedo Turkoglu||SF||Corey Maggette|
|Rashard Lewis||PF||Al Thornton|
|Dwight Howard||C||Josh Powell|
|9 Jan 2008: Magic 113, Clippers 106|
Given the heaps of praise piled upon the Los Angeles Lakers, it's easy for some people to forget that they share a building with the Clippers. For more on this criminally underexposed team, I checked-in with Steve from Clips Nation.
3QC: The Clippers are in a bad way right now. Elton Brand and Shaun Livingston, two of their top-four players, have yet to play this season due to injury. Another top-four player, Corey Maggette, is worth more money than he's earning and may leave via free-agency this summer. If you could only bring one of those players back next season, which one would you choose? And why do you think that player is Clippers' key to building a winning franchise?
Steve: There's no question who everyone in ClipsNation would bring back - it's Elton Brand. And it's not close. I've wondered at times why other teams seemed to weather prolonged absences of superstar players a little better than the Generic Clippers (no Brand). I've come to the conclusion that Elton Brand, as the best all around player on the Clippers - the best scorer, the best rebounder, the best post defender, the best locker room influence, the best leader - is just that much more important to the Clipers than, say, Gilbert Arenas is to the Wizards. The Wizards replace Arenas with Antonio Daniels and there team defense gets better and their turnovers go down, while their offense definitely suffers. The Clippers replace Brand with Tim Thomas and every damn thing gets worse. EVERY DAMN THING.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if Brand isn't coming back, don't bother re-signing Maggette. With both of them gone, they'd be far enough under the cap to actually sign somebody (not that there's anyone out there, but still). If Brand isn't going to be here, get out the dynamite, blow it up.
Livingston is a bit of an exception - because of his uncertain status, he can probably be retained inexpensively. I don't expect him to play anywhere else next season - he and the Clippers have been through too much together. But he's a restricted free agent, and it remains to be seen how much he signs for and for how long.
The good news is that Brand is not going anywhere. He's chomping at the bit to get back on the floor this season, and would be playing on this trip if Coach would let him. And the reason he wants to play is to start getting the team ready for next season. He's committed to staying with the Clippers, and has said as much. It may only be for the final year of this contract (he has one more year, with an opt out this summer), but he'll be a Clipper next season, and so will Livingston. Maggette is a tougher call. I really have no idea what will happen with him.
3QC: The Magic and the Clippers have something in common in that they both have veteran players having career-years this season. We have Hedo Turkoglu; you have Chris Kaman. When completely healthy, how far can Kaman lead the Clippers? Is he All-Star material?
Steve: Is he All Star material? Well, the short answer is yes. He might well have been an All Star this season had he not been playing on a last place team. But I think we're finding out that he's not really cut out to be the main man - as the double teams have become more aggressive, his offensive numbers have definitely suffered. He has certainly shown that he will be a defensive and rebounding force in this league for years. He's third in the league in both rebounding and blocked shots, and maintaining that position despite playing hurt for the last month. He also is a surprisingly good on ball defender - he does ok on the pick and roll, he can cover more mobile centers - he's not just a Camby style free safety loading up on weak side blocked shots. In the absence of Brand he's had to take the tough low post assignments all season long, and he's still managed to be third in the league in blocks. (This is another reason Brand will be back - he definitely wants to play alongside this new version of Kaman. Brand has been top 10 in rebounding and blocked shots for years. If they can manage to be top 10 in those categories in the same front court it will be the first time since David Robinson and Tim Duncan - and those guys did alright together.)
This isn't actually a question; I just want to give you the opportunity to tell Magic fans, and other 3QC readers on the East Coast, how awesome Al Thornton is.
He's pretty awesome. Since I see him every night, I forget what a secret he is around the league. But never fear - everyone got to see Jeff Green in the Rookie game, so there's that. The fact that Al Thornton wasn't selected for the rookie game; the fact that he lost out to Luis Scola for February Rookie of the Month (Scola averaged 11.7 points and 5.9 rebounds while Thornton went for 17.4 and 6.3); well, that's just life in ClipsNation.
While many rookies have been hitting the Wall, Thornton has been steadily improving. He averaged 6 points in November, 8 in December, 13 in January and the aforementioned 17.6 in February, which he's pretty much maintained into March. He's also shooting better and rebounding more. In 21 games since January 30, he's been in double figures 18 times, gone for 20 or more 9 times, and had two games of 33. He's a freak of an athlete, and can score in a variety of ways. He's got a deadly first step and the ability to finish around the basket; he can create space for his jump shot; he has NBA three-point range (31 for 87 on the season); and he's got a motor that just doesn't stop. The athleticism in particular is very welcome on the Clippers. Brand is one of the less athletic superstars in the NBA. Outside of Maggette, the Clippers don't have anyone that qualifies as a flyer, let alone a high flyer. Thornton's myriad dunks this season, over Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, Josh Smith and Mikki Moore among others, are the only things getting the Clippers onto SportsCenter these days.
Perhaps most amazing for a rookie is that he's been the go to scorer in the fourth quarter of several wins. Against New Jersey he out-dueled Carter in the fourth. He scored 9 crucial fourth quarter points while being defended by Bosh in a close win on the road in Toronto. And last week against the Kings he nailed a nasty step back 20 footer on the Clippers final possession to send the game into overtime. He scored 22 points in the fourth period and overtimes combined in that game, which the Clippers eventually won. How many rookies are getting the ball in key late game possessions this season? I'll answer my own question - two. Kevin Durant and Al Thornton.
The duel emergences of Thornton and Kaman are definitely the silver lining on this cumulonimbus of a season in ClipsNation.
3QC: I like to end these Q-and-A sessions positively, so I wanted to compliment your team on its wonderful uniforms. What are your thoughts on the Clippers' on-court attire? I think the blue alternate uniforms are among the best in the entire league.
Really, that's it? That's the most positive you can be? "Nice unis."
I'm no expert by any means, but this is probably an area where the Clippers non-innovative ways have benefited them. While most of the NBA has been exploring the color pallet (teal? really?), designing ever more detailed logos, and adding black to pretty much everything (it was cool when the Bulls did it - it's just lame for the T-Wolves), the Clippers have remained with the most primary of primary colors, and logos involving nothing more than letters and a basketball. As the pendulum has swings back to old school unis, it turns out the Clippers have been there all along. That blue road uniform is a case in point - pretty much a straightforward royal blue uni with the word Los Angeles on the front. But name another team that uses that color at all? Of course, I don't think they've won while wearing that uniform in like two seasons, so I'm beginning to hate it. But it looks sharp.
Many thanks to ClipperSteve for those thorough responses. I meant no harm in commending the Clippers for their beautiful uniforms, but I do indeed see now how that could come across as a slight. Apologies to Steve and to Clippers fans for that.
Check out my answers to his questions -- including my take on the Magic's point guard situation -- at Clips Nation.
- Corey Maggette gets to the foul line at will -- he's taken 48 foul shots in his last 5 games! -- and converts at a high rate: .841 on the season and .823 for his career. Keith Bogans and Mo Evans are going to keep him away from the basket and force him to take contested jumpers. Maggette's hitting his outside shots at an effective field goal percentage of .418, which is well below average.
- Chris Kaman is day-to-day with a sore back and may not be available this evening. If that's the case, Dwight Howard will
feast uponmatch-up against Josh Powell.
- Al Thornton should go for 20+ points tonight. I don't think Rashard Lewis can stop him.
- No word on if J.J. Redick, who left the team after Saturday's loss to Golden State to be with his brother, will be in-uniform tonight. David Redick underwent successful surgery to remove a tumor from his spine on Monday.
- If J.J. isn't available, and the game is a blowout, we could very well have another Marcin Gortat sighting. I do not object to this. Free Marcin.
Tip's at 7, as usual. I may be a bit late to the party, but better late than never, amIrite?