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Cassell has no doubts about season opener

Times Staff Writer

Don’t bother Sam Cassell with concerns about his age and the supposed importance of NBA exhibition games.

Cassell, who turns 37 on Nov. 18, has played in only one of the Clippers’ six games to this point because of a strained left calf, but he said he would be ready to start in the season opener Nov. 1 against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center.

“I’ve been in this game long enough to know what I need to go to work,” said Cassell, beginning his 14th season. “Nobody needs to worry about me, no doubt about it, because I’ve been getting it done for a long, long time in this game.”

In his first season with the Clippers, Cassell averaged 17.2 points and a team-leading 6.3 assists. In the postseason, Cassell averaged 18 points and 5.8 assists.

Cassell’s confidence, upbeat personality and clutch shooting helped the Clippers experience their best season and improve the image of a franchise once considered among the worst in sports.

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A free agent last summer, Cassell said he considered offers from the Atlanta Hawks and Denver Nuggets but accepted a two-year, $13-million contract to return to the Clippers.

Under his new contract, Cassell, who earned $6.2 million last season, receives $6.85 million this season and $6.15 million in the 2007-08 season.

“There were some other teams out there, I could have definitely gone some other places, but this is where I wanted to be because of what we got started here last year for the fans,” said Cassell, one of the team’s most popular players.

“Before last year, whenever I would come to play against the Clippers, you never saw that excitement from their fans late in games. It was almost like they really didn’t believe the Clippers could do it, but last year they had that excitement because we gave them something to believe in. They saw it.”

With the addition of long-range shooter Tim Thomas and backup post player Aaron Williams, the Clippers have championship-caliber depth, Cassell said.

“Tim and Aaron ... those guys are going to help us,” Cassell said. “You look at this basketball team, we could do some big things.”

Cassell said he might play tonight against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center or return to the lineup for the final preseason game Friday against the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center.

“It’s like I tell my guys all the time, ‘Don’t worry about me, I’ve been doing this long enough,’ ” Cassell said. “I know what it takes for me to be ready. I’ll be ready.”

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Center Chris Kaman (strained left hamstring) is not expected to play tonight.... Thomas underwent gum surgery for the second time this month, a team spokesman said. He also might sit out tonight.

jason.reid@latimes.com


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