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Arena Talk Seen as a Ploy

Times Staff Writer

The Clippers had nothing to say Tuesday regarding an insinuation by their landlord that they no longer are wanted in Staples Center.

Though they were thought to be amused, they declined to comment on a story published Monday in the Los Angeles Downtown News in which Tim Leiweke, president of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, said that the Clippers might be jettisoned from the arena when their lease runs out after this season.

They said privately that they considered it a negotiating ploy.

Meanwhile, Leiweke declined through Staples Center spokesman Michael Roth to expound on his statements. Said Roth: “We continue to be in negotiations on a lease extension with the Clippers.”

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Leiweke was quoted as telling the Downtown News, “We actually would make more money if, instead of 40 Clippers games, we had five concerts. So, those are some of the decisions we’re going to have to make. The Clippers’ issue is in negotiations now. Their lease is up after this year.

“And ironically, shockingly, we’ve got to make a decision as to whether we even want them back. We’re not sure.”

The Clippers moved from the Sports Arena before the 1999-2000 season, signing a six-year lease with Staples Center, which opened five years ago this month.

At the same time, the Lakers and Kings signed 20-year leases with Staples Center.

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The Clippers will be short-handed when they open the exhibition season tonight at Phoenix against the Suns and former Clipper Quentin Richardson. Starters Corey Maggette, Chris Kaman, Marko Jaric and Kerry Kittles are sidelined because of injuries, as is backup center Zeljko Rebraca.

Coach Mike Dunleavy said that the injury glut would not diminish the exhibition’s value in determining where the Clippers stand.

“Not at all,” he said, “because we’re going to see the guys we want to see play. Early games, you’re not going to play your main guys many minutes anyway. Seeing the other guys ... they’ll get a good chance to show something....

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“Oftentimes, you turn the lights on, the popcorn machine on, things change for people, either positively or negatively. We’ll see how our guys respond.”

Dunleavy, undecided about the other two spots, said that Elton Brand, Bobby Simmons and rookie Quinton Ross would start against the Suns.

The coach said that rookie point guards Shaun Livingston and Lionel Chalmers would each play at least 15 minutes. One might start.

“I’ve been pleased with them, the way they’ve played,” he said.

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