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You Can’t Stop Yourself From Embracing Clippers

The other night, after the Clippers beat the Lakers, Donald Sterling wanted to hug me, and after we got that straightened out and I told him to back off, we started chatting about this amazing season -- at arm’s length.

“I tell Elgin [Baylor] all the time we need more good players,” Sterling gushed, and I know what you’re thinking: We probably should do a DNA test to prove someone else has assumed Sterling’s identity.

There’s no question something odd is happening here, and it began three years ago with the hiring of Mike Dunleavy, with Sterling, or whoever is playing the role of Sterling, giving the coach a four-year deal for $10 million.

Then the Clippers committed $82.2 million to Elton Brand -- smelling salts, please for Sterling, another $42 million to Corey Maggette, while making a $60-million offer to Gilbert Arenas.

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At the same time they elected not to keep Lamar Odom, a move many Laker fans can understand.

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TWO SUMMERS ago they threw $105 million at Kobe Bryant, and he has got to be asking himself if he made the right decision every time he throws the ball inside to Kwame Brown.

The Clippers bought Kerry Kittles for $9 million, and while that proved to be a waste because he got hurt, it wasn’t because the Clippers weren’t trying to improve, and in reality, it was a preview of what they had in mind when they got the leadership of Sam Cassell for $6.1 million this season.

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The spending spree continued with Cuttino Mobley’s signing for $42 million -- Sterling, or his look-alike, signing the checks, and while playing much of the season without Maggette, the Clippers are on their way to only their second winning season since moving to L.A.

“I don’t think the most important thing is the fact we’re on the verge of having our second winning season,” said Andy Roeser, the Clippers’ executive vice president. “I think the most important thing is we’re on the verge of having a period of sustained success.”

Roeser said the Clippers will make an attempt to sign Cassell to a new contract at season’s end, while probably using their mid-level exception of $5.5 million to re-up the newly acquired Vladimir Radmanovic, who already looks like a legitimate keeper.

Throw in any kind of off-season improvement from Chris Kaman and Shaun Livingston -- like the Clippers got from Brand this year, and I just hope they go easy on the Lakers the next few years.

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A HUMBLE Ralph Lawler, the voice of the Clippers since they came to L.A., said he has no idea how they determine who is nominated or selected for the Basketball Hall of Fame when it comes to broadcasters, so I said, “How are we ever going to get Mike Smith in?”

Each year one writer and one broadcaster are selected as Curt Gowdy Media Award winners, earning a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame. If the selection is based on wins and losses, that’s not fair, of course, since the broadcaster has no part in that. If it’s based on presenting basketball in the best way, the most informative and entertaining way, then it’s a no-brainer, and who better to stand in the Hall than Lawler, who has worked to keep the game fun for the fans while following the worst team in the sport loss after loss?

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PHIL JACKSON took exception with the referee’s foul call on Bryant in the final seconds Sunday, sending Boston’s Paul Pierce to the foul line, his successful free throw proving to be the game-winner.

Bryant clearly reached around Pierce in an attempt to poke the ball free. Kids in grade school learn early on that that will be called as a foul almost every time -- even if they are successful in poking the ball free.

Of course, grade school coaches are also taught early on not to blame the referees for losing a game.

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REMEMBER THE stories in the newspaper after the All-Star break, and Jackson talking about the increase in playing time for Andrew Bynum? Four games into the “Bynum is going to play more” portion of the Laker season, he has played two minutes.

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PETE CARROLL was a guest on the father/daughter gabfest on 570, and while as energetic as ever in discussing the team’s current losing streak, when I asked him which Pac-10 schools concerned him the most this upcoming season, he mentioned California, Arizona State, Washington State and Arizona.

He failed to mention UCLA, and while I expected him to say, “Oh yeah, you have to include UCLA,” when I mentioned the Bruins, he didn’t.

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He said UCLA is “rebuilding,” losing a lot of touchdowns and coaches, and that got me to thinking maybe this isn’t the right time to start wearing blue.

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THE DODGERS are running a smiling picture of Jeff Kent on their website, which automatically makes you think the picture was doctored.

Kent is standing with his arm around teammate Kenny Lofton, the Dodgers’ way of saying, I guess, that Milton Bradley was wrong and there isn’t a racist bit of truth to anything Bradley might’ve said about Kent last season.

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TODAY’S LAST word comes in e-mail from James Brisco:

“You’ve got to be the poorest writer in the media. You should be fired. Not one word about Tony Stewart’s driving skills in your story. If you were at the track Sunday, then you saw his talent.”

I wasn’t at the track, but I noticed in the paper he finished last.

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.


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