This Time, Clippers Aren't Kidding Around

In an NBA draft loaded with uncertainties, we can say right now that the Clippers had the best day of any team Wednesday.

After finishing the day's big trade, the Clippers can claim to have something none of the other teams gambling on a high school player has: a known commodity. Call it the value of name-Brand recognition.

Maybe Kwame Brown, Eddy Curry or the kid the Clippers picked second and traded to the Chicago Bulls, Tyson Chandler, will be the rookie of the year. Maybe one or more will be a superstar. But we already can say for certain that power forward Elton Brand, the guy the Clippers got in return for the rights to Chandler and seldom-used Brian Skinner, was the co-rookie of the year in 2000. And he averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds a game this last season.

No matter how good these other guys turn out to be, they won't do much better than a double-double every night. Only eight other players did it last season, and their names are Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber, Antonio McDyess, Dikembe Mutombo, Shawn Marion and Antonio Davis. Of the group, only Shaq, Duncan, Webber, Garnett, McDyess and Brand were good for 20 and 10 a game.

"We know what we have: a proven player," Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor said. "We're very happy with that."

Happy? The folks in Clipperville certainly were.

There was Executive Vice President Andy Roeser, standing outside in the late afternoon sunshine saying, "It's all good."

Ralph Lawler, the announcer who bore witness to more bad basketball games than Amnesty International should tolerate, left the building beaming.

"I'm thrilled to death," Lawler said.

Coach Alvin Gentry invited reporters to join him for cocktails.

Staples Center President Tim Leiweke dropped by to offer congratulations, and he was smiling too.

"It was a good day for the building," said Leiweke, who left wondering about the logistics of scheduling Laker, King and Clipper playoff games in the same postseason.

Lamar Odom was upstairs at his home, unaware the trade had gone down. When he came downstairs, his buddy gave him the news. His reaction was the same displayed by all the Clipper officials at Staples Center.

"There was a big smile on my face," Odom said.

There were so many question marks about the high school kids. Do they have the mental capacity to hold up in the NBA? The Clippers said they would have loved to have kept Chandler if the trade fell through, but scouts say the 7-footer often plays more like a small forward.

As Odom said, "We needed some brute."

Now the Clippers have a solid power forward who can give them a low-post presence and rebound. Although Brand is only 6 feet 8 inches, his extra-long arms mean "he can play like a 6-10 guy," Gentry said. They make him an effective shot-blocker as well.

The Clippers can move Darius Miles to small forward. Odom can do his thing wherever.

A team that won 31 games this last season in what was an important step toward respectability is now talking about making the next big leap to the playoffs.

"The time is now," Odom said. "We're playing to get better, but we're also playing to win."

Believe it or not, the Clippers could still be major players this summer. They should still be $12 million below the expected salary cap, which would allow them to sign any of the marquee free agents outright or facilitate a three-team trade. They have tradable assets of their own, such as Quentin Richardson and Keyon Dooling.

But the front-office folks sounded as if this was going to be it for a while. And it's a major, major improvement.

The Atlanta Hawks made a big move Tuesday when they agreed to take the Grizzlies' Shareef Abdur-Rahim for the No. 3 pick (which turned out to be Pau Gasol of Spain). I've always liked Abdur-Rahim, but I have this nagging feeling that if he were really that good, the Grizzlies wouldn't be that bad.

Draft day used to be a nightmarish experience for the Clippers. For the first 14 years of the lottery, every year they were in it they managed to blow it. There was always at least one player taken after their selection who went on to have a better career than the guy they took.

Now the Clippers have actually earned the benefit of the doubt based on their last two selections. There was no one selected after Odom in the '99 draft who would be better for the team. Same goes for Miles last year--not to mention the depth and flexibility Baylor's additions of Richardson and Dooling on draft-day moves last year gives them.

If there's anyone whose sanity should be questioned today it's Bull General Manager Jerry Krause. Is he slowly losing it?

The Clippers' explanation for why Krause would trade a known for the unknown was that "He probably looked at what we did; we got young players, young talent," Baylor said.

With Chandler and Eddy Curry, whom the Bulls took with the fourth pick, they have a core group that is locked into those five-year rookie contracts.

Just like the Clippers.

Imagine that: the Clippers as a model franchise.

New millennium indeed. The dominant franchise of the 1990s is following the path of the league's longtime punch line.

The Clippers are finally getting the hang of this lottery thing. Only it's starting to look as if they won't be in it next year.

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J.A. Adande can be reached at: j.a.adande@latimes.com.

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