Clippers step it up
Admit it, you thought the shaken owner would crumble.
You thought Donald Sterling would look around the smoking remains of his once-lavish Clippers team -- two best players leaving, coach steaming, star guard limping -- and he would quit.
No more money. No more effort. No more Mr. Rich Guy.
Admit it, you thought that this summer, the Clippers were going back to Square One.
Instead, on the most glorious July Tuesday in franchise history, they have leaped to Seed Seven.
Baron Davis? Are you kidding me?
One of the toughest point guards in a point-guard league, bought for $65 million by a team desperately in need of a point guard?
One of the coolest Los Angeles kids, with connections from hellholes to Hollywood, returning home in hip glasses and a nasty crossover?
A former UCLA Bruin, who knows Magic Johnson as well as he knows the Eight Clap, coming back to hang out with Adam Sandler?
Baron Davis? To the Clippers?
It’s like the homecoming king returning nine years later to refurbish the faded corner diner.
It’s like the valedictorian returning to pump a little life into the library.
It’s really neat, is what it is, the Clippers’ Sterling showing he is serious not only about creating a buzz, but also creating a Buss.
I remember seeing Sterling sitting near the court at an NBA playoff game this spring -- a Lakers playoff game.
I had never seen him there before and I thought, has he totally given up?
The one spending spree of his career netted only two rounds of the playoffs two seasons ago.
He had lost his beloved kid guard Shaun Livingston to a horrible injury. He had endured a public feud with Coach Mike Dunleavy. His best players were on the verge of bolting.
I saw him watching the Lakers and I thought, has he really changed sides?
Turns out, he wasn’t watching them, he was studying them.
If Pau Gasol can fall into the Lakers’ lap, well, apparently Baron Davis can come floating down to the Clippers.
Davis is a player so desired here, Kobe Bryant nearly left town because he didn’t think the Lakers tried hard enough to trade for him.
Davis is a player so beloved here, when he left UCLA, fans stood and chanted and cheered for several long minutes even though he had only stuck around two short years.
Davis is also one of the few players in basketball strong enough to move Elton Brand with the single push of a pen.
That’s right, because Davis is coming, Brand is staying, the star expected to sign a new contract shortly after opting out of his old one.
How influential is the presence of Baron Davis?
That contract will include a pay cut.
Davis belongs not only to the NBA, but to SAG.
Davis runs not only a fast break, but a movie production company.
He is a man of all seasons . . . if only he can last a full season.
That’s his biggest rap. In nine seasons with Charlotte/New Orleans and Golden State, he’s played 82 games only four times.
However, one of those times was last year.
And, indeed, both his scoring and rebounding averages have improved over the last three years.
He’s 29, which isn’t Chris Paul young, but it also isn’t Sam Cassell old.
He’s five years younger than Steve Nash, six years older than Deron Williams, a nice age where smart and tough point guards still matter.
And if you don’t think pairing two playoff-starved veterans like Davis and Brand together doesn’t also matter, then you weren’t watching the Boston Celtics in the NBA playoffs.
Chris Kaman is ready to take the next step at center. Al Thornton has been a revelation at small forward. Cuttino Mobley can keep the shooting guard spot warm for first-round pick Eric Gordon.
The West is tough. But one day after looking like a team that might win 26 games, these Clippers could win twice that many, good enough to be seeded seventh.
Having already led his eighth-seeded Warriors to a memorable playoff upset of top-seeded Dallas two years ago, Davis could take it from there.
When the Clippers take the floor, of course, strange things always happen, so no promises can be made.
But, if nothing else, we know at least one person hasn’t given up on them.
Davis may be a strong defensive presence, but this steal goes to Donald Sterling.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.
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Projected starting lineup
With the addition of point guard Baron Davis and the expected re-signing of forward Elton Brand, who missed 74 games last season, the Clippers will have a different look for 2008-09:
*--* P Player PPG REB AST FG% FT% STL BLK G Cuttino Mobley 16.1 3.9 2.7 43.3 83.6 1.2 0.4 G Baron Davis 17.1 4.1 7.2 41.4 69.2 2.0 0.4 F Al Thornton 12.7 4.5 1.2 42.9 74.3 0.6 0.5 F Elton Brand 20.3 10.2 2.7 50.5 73.8 0.9 2.1 C Chris Kaman 10.3 8.3 1.2 48.4 73.8 0.5 1.4 *--*
Top reserves: Eric Gordon, Tim Thomas, Brevin Knight
(stats are career averages)
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