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CASEY’S CASE : Clipper Coach Says He’d Like to Be Around When Team’s Young Players Mature

Times Staff Writer

Don Casey took the microphone. Some of the Clipper season-ticket holders sitting in the upper level of the Sports Arena applauded politely.

Casey grinned, and there haven’t been too many of those this season.

“The last time I did this, two dinner rolls were thrown at me,” he said.

So it was a hard-baked Casey who addressed some of the Clipper faithful in a question and answer session before a recent game against the Dallas Mavericks. He thought about what it would take for the Clippers to get a victory, and there haven’t been too many of those, either, this season.

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As Casey said: “The reality is, this is a tough, tough league.”

Once again this season, another strong dose of Clipper reality has set in. What could have better prepared Casey to be the Clippers’ sixth coach in 10 years than to be an assistant to three other coaches since 1985?

Of course, Casey once coached a team in Italy, so he has seen ruins before.

Casey inherited the Clipper coaching job when Gene Shue was deemed a fallen arch. Since then, with Casey at the bat, the Clippers have continued to limp along. And although it’s probably no fault of his, Casey may be blamed.

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But first, a warning to some of those who might wish to succeed him:

“All the college coaches who are begging to get in here, they don’t have a clue,” he said.

That said, Casey still does not have a contract after this season, but he has asked that his coaching status be decided before every Jim (Valvano), Slick (Watts) and Larry (Brown), or whomever is rumored coming this way, gets the word first.

The Clippers have a lot of decisions to make, not the least of which being whether to keep the man chosen the worst-dressed coach in the league.

Actually, Casey finished in a last-place tie for worst-dressed coach with someone who thinks a lapel is what’s on a beer bottle. That would be Denver’s Doug Moe, whose selection of neckwear is always a last-place tie.

When he was chosen, Casey joked about the person who selected him.

“I saw that guy once,” Casey said. “With that white shirt, I thought he was going to see ‘Hee-Haw.’ ”

Humor probably helps. In any event, Casey deserves to come back if for no other reason than his slightly rumpled look closely matches the team he is coaching.

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Yet with or without Casey, the Clippers have got some thinking to do, which is always dangerous. A few of the questions from the season-ticket holders reflected the critical Clipper choices. Casey had his answers ready.

What should the Clippers do with their draft lottery choice?

“We should trade it, or shop it,” Casey replied.

Why?

“How many grandchildren do you want to have?” he asked.

Norm Nixon’s retirement lowered the average Clipper age to 23.7 years. By remarkable coincidence, that’s also the number of victories that the Clippers have surpassed only four times in nine years.

This is the problem in committing to youth, Casey said. If that is the policy, then stick with it and let the coach stay around for a while.

“Otherwise, every season you’re going to have another coach talking to you guys,” Casey told his audience.

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What about Benoit Benjamin?

“He’ll be back, he has to be, or we should already have traded him,” Casey said.

The Clippers can keep Benjamin by matching whatever contract offer he might receive from another team. Even so, Casey says the clock is ticking for Big Ben as he struggles to become a consistent player.

“The jury is still out,” Casey said.

Do the Clippers need someone to go to in the last two minutes?

“A go-to guy, sure,” said Casey, who telephoned John Nash, general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, and floated a piece of trade speculation past him: The Clippers lottery pick and something else for Charles Barkley and something else.

The reaction? “Well, it wasn’t a turnoff,” Casey said.

Anyway, someone with a fear of turnoffs or hangups shouldn’t be coaching this team anyway. It’s part of a job in which there are built-in problems.

“This team is like having teen-aged children,” Casey said. “One moment they’re great, the next moment they come home with a wrecked car and the next moment they’re fine again.”

With that, he was off. He had a team to coach. Disgusted with their practice, Casey had not spoken to the players all day.

“I don’t have any idea how they will react,” he said.

The Clippers went out and beat the Mavericks.

Win or lose, Casey will work hard, as always, for the next game and the one after that. In the land of the Clippers, the day is still young. It’s just the coach who gets old in a hurry.


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