Class is in session again for the Clippers, who are taking higher aim this season after participating in postseason play last spring for the first time since the franchise was in Buffalo.
But first, a change in assignments. Thursday night, about 13 hours before the opening of training camp here, the Clippers traded the rights to rookie forward Don MacLean and backup center William Bedford to the Washington Bullets for John Williams, who would probably be regarded as one of the NBA's most versatile players if he also wasn't one of the most overweight.
The bonus was that Williams, who starred at Crenshaw High as one of the best prep players in Southern California in recent history, restructured his contract by giving back about $100,000 this season in exchange for a partially guaranteed contract for 1994-95. That gives the Clippers $400,000 to sign rookie Elmore Spencer.
Williams had been warned Thursday morning that a trade was possible, so he did not leave Los Angeles to join the Bullets. He will take a physical this morning and could be in uniform in time for the night practice session.
"The thing we want to make people realize is that this is a long-range thing," said Clipper Coach Larry Brown, who scouted Williams this summer during pickup games at UCLA. "But I don't want John to look at it that way. I want him to get to work immediately."
That would be because of Williams' weight problems. They reached the critical stage after Williams underwent reconstructive knee surgery early in 1989-90. He returned to play only 33 games the next season, giving him 51 for those two years, but he ballooned to more than 300 pounds, about 40 over his listed weight. The Bullets suspended him for all of 1991-92.
"I'm not going to harp on it," Brown said. "We're just going day by day with him and taking it as it goes. It's a gamble because he practically hasn't played for three years, but it's one we're willing to take."
When camp opens today, Brown, whose greatest attribute might be his ability to teach the game, will have a school setting for an entire month. He missed out on that last season after taking over at midseason and still went 23-12 while installing a new system on the fly.
"I always think training camp is the most important time," Brown said. "You play so many games (during the season) in such a short time and you're so worried about the team physically that you don't get a lot of time to teach. I think training camp sets the tone for the whole season."
The course load will be varied. Aspects to be covered in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 regular-season opener:
--Chemistry. Gary Grant, Ron Harper, Danny Manning, Ken Norman and Loy Vaught are the only returnees from the most successful team the franchise has had since its days as the Buffalo Brave. And that was before Thursday's deal.
Doc Rivers, brought in a year ago largely because of his veteran influence, was traded to New York. James Edwards, acquired last summer for much the same reason, not to mention his dependable low-post scoring, signed as a free agent with the Lakers.
The Clippers are counting on first-hand playoff experience being enough to compensate for their loss. That and the arrival of Mark Jackson, who was nothing less than mature and focused last season with the Knicks.
But it's tough to not wonder, what with more new players (seven) than old (five): Has General Manager Elgin Baylor tinkered too much?
--History. Clipper management is already sensitive to inevitable comparisons of Stanley Roberts to Benoit Benjamin, but they passed on Roberts in the draft a year ago for the same reason.
--Physical Education. The Clippers were not a great rebounding team to begin with, finishing tied for 16th last season, and two of their top three in that category, Olden Polynice and Charles Smith, are gone. Smith was also the top shot-blocker.
So Brown's concern about physical play is justifiable. Roberts, the new presence, averaged 6.2 rebounds as a rookie last season with the Orlando Magic. That would have been fourth on the Clippers. The year before, he got 8.7 . . . playing in Spain.
The counter is that Manning showed significant improvement in rebounding and shot blocking last season. Harper, a guard, averaged 5.5 rebounds. Brown is also quick to point out that Norman took advantage of additional playing time by averaging almost three more rebounds per game after the All-Star break.
--Math. With the available money, the Clippers still have to sign Spencer, their backup center, and then land free agent Kiki Vandeweghe, who is also said to be considering offers from San Antonio and Phoenix, with a one-year guaranteed contract for the NBA minimum of $140,000.
But because of salary cap limitations, they can't sign Vandeweghe, who played for Brown at UCLA, until finishing with Spencer. The Nevada Las Vegas product, the 25th pick in the draft, has indicated he would have been willing to take $312,500, the amount available before the trade, but only for one year and then become a restricted free agent. The Clippers want to lengthen the security on their investment to two or three years and hope the additional money from the trade helps.
Years, not dollars, remains the issue in the standoff.
John Williams' NBA Statistics
Season G FG FT Reb Ast Pts 86-87 Bullets 78 .454 .646 366 191 9.2 87-88 Bullets 82 .469 .734 444 232 12.8 88-89 Bullets 82 .466 .776 573 356 13.7 89-90 Bullets 18 .474 .774 136 84 18.2 90-91 Bullets 33 .417 .753 177 133 12.5 91-92 Bullets Did not play, suspended Totals 293 .459 .732 1696 996 12.4
Season G FG FT Reb Ast Pts 86-87 Bullets 3 .571 .571 11 2 6.7 87-88 Bullets 5 .479 .594 29 21 13.0 Totals 8 .500 .590 40 23 10.6