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Victory Has a Hollow Sound for Kimble : Clippers: Ex-Loyola Marymount star rides the bench as L.A. beats Minnesota, 124-107.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With the NBA’s trading deadline next Thursday and the Clippers still saying no deals are imminent, the tension mounts.

At the end of the bench, a No. 1 draft pick sits as the fifth guard after having started 22 of the first 23 games. Bo Kimble sits silently, but that speaks volumes.

Because when his agent, Leonard Armato, raised concerns with owner Donald T. Sterling and General Manager Elgin Baylor, Kimble does not disagree. When Armato chastises the Clippers for taking the local hero from Loyola Marymount and then not playing him more than 13 minutes in any of the last 15 games, Kimble does not disagree. And when Armato talks of the growing frustration of his client, Kimble does not disagree.

“I definitely support what he says,” Kimble said before the Clippers defeated the Minnesota Timberwolves, 124-107, Friday night at the Sports Arena to end a six-game losing streak. “I just want to play. Really, that’s it. That’s the only comment I have.”

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Armato, taking responsibility as the front man and ready for any fallout that comes from his words, does not hold back. This situation has been on his mind for weeks, when he first approached Baylor and Sterling, and escalated a few days ago, when he wrote notes to both.

“He loves being in Los Angeles and he would love to be able to step forward and contribute to the Clippers being a winning team,” Armato said. “But if this is any indication of the way he is going to be treated, then, of course, I don’t want him in a situation where he’s going to stay on the bench.

“If the last couple of months are any indication, I would like to see him traded to be on a team where he can develop. I feel compelled to speak out.”

Kimble was bumped from the starting lineup Dec. 19, when his prolonged shooting slump coincided with the emergence of second-year player Jeff Martin. Kimble’s time has dwindled since, and minutes figure to be at more of a premium as Ron Harper, who replaced Martin Friday, works his way toward eventually playing without time restrictions.

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In the meantime, Tom Garrick, recently on the verge of being waived, has returned from the injured list to become the backup point guard to Gary Grant. Coach Mike Schuler is looking for the opportunity to pair Harper and Kimble in the backcourt to see how that chemistry works, but the No. 8 overall pick in the draft is no better than the eighth man in the rotation until then.

Kimble’s predicament is not unlike that of fellow rookie Loy Vaught. Once a major contributor along the front line, Vaught has been frozen out now that Benoit Benjamin, Danny Manning, Charles Smith and Ken Norman are all healthy. The competition among the forwards and center is such that Norman, the team’s leading scorer, was replaced by Manning in the starting lineup Friday night as Schuler searches for a lineup that will not continue to fall behind early.

The difference with Kimble: He began play Friday shooting 39.2%, which gets most players a spot on the bench, let alone the role of someone brought in specifically for offense. Schuler also wants him to work on ballhandling, figuring there could be some minutes for Kimble at the point if he improves in that area.

On the other hand, the Clippers, who climbed back into a last-place tie with the victory, seem destined again for the lottery.

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“My point is that when he played, they were winning at a far, far greater clip than now,” Armato said. “Also, I figure when the season goes and they’re not winning, Bo should be given a chance to develop. They really haven’t given him much of an opportunity. I think the facts show that they were doing better with him in.”

The Clippers, 16-33 and needing to go 14-19 to reach 30 victories, were 9-13 with Kimble in the starting lineup.

“The thing that he does in practice all the time is make his shots,” Schuler said. “That’s the one thing he has not necessarily done in games.”

The Clippers’ lead was 99-74 heading into the fourth quarter as the they cruised to their first victory against the four most recent expansion teams after four consecutive losses.

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“We wanted to get out defensively,” said Benoit Benjamin, who had 27 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocked shots, barely missing a triple-double and falling one block short of tying his career high. “We came out with intensity, and we have to have that effort every night.”

The Clippers had 15 blocks, four by Charles Smith, one short of the franchise record.


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