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Brand: This Is No Time to Jump Clippers’ Ship

Times Staff Writer

Elton Brand worked over Keyon Dooling and Rex Kalamian on Thursday at Arco Arena. Or perhaps they worked him over. It was difficult to tell. Sweat poured from Brand’s brow and his T-shirt was soaked after a pregame workout with an injured teammate and an assistant coach.

“Monday,” Brand promised before the Clippers’ 93-83 loss to the Pacific Division-leading Sacramento Kings. “Then I’ll be cleared. I’m itching to play. I can honestly say I owe it to the fans. They fill up the gym almost every game. Everywhere I go, the fans all ask me, ‘When are you coming back? When are you going to play again?’ ”

That he wishes to return to the court after spending a month on the injured list because of a stress fracture above his left ankle is almost a given, considering his role as a team leader.

That he hopes to return to the Clippers next season, with his bank account bulging from a fat, new contract, shows he is perhaps the most optimistic employee in the team’s inglorious history.

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“The thing is,” he said while standing in a hallway outside the visiting locker room at Arco Arena, and out of earshot of his teammates, “with me, everything seems to work out. Even with the tough times we’ve had this season, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Many people would say that’s merely the headlight of an onrushing train, but not Brand. He knows the team’s lengthy history of failing to re-sign its players. He can recall how the team failed to sign him last summer to a long-term extension.

“I think, if there’s ever a time, it could be this summer,” he said. “I know the Clippers’ track record isn’t good. I know everyone is not going to be here next season, but if we could keep this core group together ... “

Brand believes there is the potential for greatness for the Clippers -- or, at the least, a winning record and playoff berth. Like his teammates, he has chalked up this season’s 22-50 record to injuries.

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However, he would not blame the team’s poor record on management’s inability to give him and others, including Lamar Odom and Michael Olowokandi, new contracts last summer. He said his head is on straight.

“If we’re having this conversation next summer, it’s a different story,” he said. “I had a contract for this year. I wasn’t a [walk-away] free agent.”

Without Brand, the Clippers trailed by 75-45 in the third quarter before their substitutes rallied them within 89-83 against the Kings’ second unit. The Clippers’ comeback stalled there, and they drew no closer than six in the final minute.

Rookie Chris Wilcox had a career-best 16 points in 20 minutes for the Clippers. Chris Webber had 23 points for Sacramento.

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