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He Gets Last Laugh : Clippers’ Roberts Is Doing What He Said He Would Do After Arrival From Orlando

TIMES STAFF WRITER

From: Stanley Roberts.

To: Fans, media and critics in general.

Re: A future in the NBA.

Dear doubters,

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Told you so.

Have a nice day.

--Stanley.

*

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Stanley Roberts told them he would lose the weight, that the fans would come to love him and the Clippers would have a dependable center for years to come, even when it looked as though he couldn’t be counted on to play more than a few minutes.

That’s when exhaustion or fouls would force him to live from timeout to timeout.

He has gone from 320 pounds at the opening of training camp to--usually--the low 290s, right where the Clippers want him. He has gone from the tank to the top, perhaps the best center in the Pacific Division and maybe the fourth-best in the Western Conference, behind David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo.

“You can’t even put a time frame on it,” said Hall of Fame center Bill Walton, who has watched Roberts’ progress while working as an analyst on Clipper telecasts. “From the start of the season until now, his improvement has been astonishing. And he actually shows competitive fire and pride now.”

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Coach Larry Brown said: “If you ask me when did I expect him, I didn’t think it would happen this year. Knowing now what I know about him, if he’d have come in here in reasonably good shape like a pro, he’d be so far ahead. But I’m pleased that he has made great progress, and I’m really proud of what he’s done.”

Held back because of poor conditioning and constant foul problems, Roberts didn’t play 30 minutes in one night until Jan. 6, or Game 31. Since then, he has played that many or more in 17 of 35 appearances, though he has slid again and failed to reach 30 minutes in five consecutive games.

Other numbers have risen accordingly. His scoring went from an average of 6.7 points a game in November to 9.6 in December to 12 in January to 15.6 in February, before dipping to 11 this month. But his rebound average has risen continually: 3.1 to 5.7 to six to 6.9 to 7.9. His shooting went from 48.6% to 49.6% to 52.9% to 56.1%, before slipping to 50.5%.

Told you so.

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“I feel like that, some of the time,” Roberts said. “But I proved to myself I could do it, and that’s what matters. I stood behind (preseason statements) and proved I could do it.

“Me and (Clipper vice president of public relations) Mike Williams talk about that kind of thing a lot. He’ll come to me with an interview request from some reporter, and I’ll look at the name and say, ‘Wasn’t he one of the people killing me at the start of the season?’ Mike would say, ‘Yeah.’

“I didn’t want to do some of those interviews, but he encouraged me to talk to all those people. I had to go through that a lot. Mike thought it would make a good impression on the court seem even better.”

And what did Roberts think?

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“I would think it was kind of funny,” he said. “I was making people eat their words, take it all back, when they wrote good articles.”

Roberts, who would be in his rookie season if he had finished his four years at Louisiana State, said he thought he had climbed a mountain with that first 30-minute game. In truth, the only thing that made it special was that Roberts’ advance came earlier than expected. The Clippers had all but written off any real contribution until at least the All-Star break.

It’s what followed that has been most impressive: The quickness of his moves around the basket, even for someone whose offensive skills are still raw; his improvement in finding the open man to pass to after being double-teamed; the slam dunks off fast-break lob passes from Mark Jackson.

Fast breaks? Alley-Oops?

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Stanley Roberts?

“It’s amazing I was even down there for a lob pass when you look at the beginning of the season,” he said.

That notion is seconded.

“I think more than him showing confidence, I think his teammates are starting to show more confidence (in him),” said Brown, who regularly spends extra time after practices working with his 23-year-old center.

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“They throw him the ball more. They get tickled when he makes plays, and I think we all do. Sometimes he just surprises the hell out of me.

“Coaching David (Robinson) and David Thompson and Danny (Manning) and some of the people I’ve had, you see great athletic moves. But man, this kid, at that size, he’ll come up with some that are just incredible.”

They are not so impressed in Orlando, Fla., where this is a familiar story: A talented and well-liked young man arrives in horrible shape, uses the first half of an NBA schedule as a conditioning program and then looks impressive down the stretch. The Magic lived with it last season, before trading Roberts.

His true advance won’t be known until next fall, when he does--or does not--arrive at camp in shape. But, Roberts claims, there is a difference between his brief stint with the Magic and his time as a Clipper, as exemplified in his accelerated conditioning.

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“Last season, it felt more like a task,” he said. “This year, I’ve had John Williams to work with, and we laugh and joke a lot during the workouts. We came in in the same predicament, conditioning-wise, but because I had someone there, a workout that lasted three hours seemed like only about 45 minutes. Last year, it felt like three hours.”

Time flies.

Roberts’ Rise

Month Min Pts Reb Blk FG% Nov. 15.3 6.7 3.1 1.0 48.6 Dec. 19.3 9.6 5.7 1.3 49.6 Jan. 26.1 12.0 6.0 1.7 52.9 Feb. 27.6 15.6 6.9 1.9 56.1 March 26.8 11.0 7.9 2.7 50.5

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