Clippers’ Craig Smith looking for a defined role

He wants to finish the job.


Baron Davis isn’t the only Clipper who returned to his hometown, hoping to help remake the organization, hoping to own part of the city … only to find out the team is owning the lottery.

Craig Smith sighed.

Losing has a way of clouding even the most brilliant of sun-splashed days in Beverly Hills, marring the mood of an upbeat power forward with the fun, cartoonish nickname, the Rhino.

“I’ve never been to the playoffs in four years,” Smith said, shaking his head. “It’s kind of depressing. But you’ve got to know it’s going to get better.”

Smith, who grew up in Inglewood and went to Fairfax, did some quick counting and realized that he has had five coaches in his four seasons in the NBA, three with the Minnesota Timberwolves and two with the Clippers this season, Mike Dunleavy and interim head coach Kim Hughes.

In the space of three days, two of the Clippers went public with questions about their role on the team. On Wednesday, Davis said he wanted to lead the team if he was allowed to do so and felt as if he had been asked to adapt to the organization.

On Friday, Smith, in a wide-ranging interview with The Times, admitted what was obvious, that the team was not on the same page with Dunleavy and spoke about the detrimental impact of losing Marcus Camby.

“It wasn’t that we were trying to tune him out,” he said of Dunleavy, who stepped down as coach in early February. “We weren’t on the same page with him. I don’t know if the timing was off or we just couldn’t be in the vibe. I mean, he was a cool guy. He was a cool coach.

“You start to understand [him], but then sometimes, it was, ‘OK, we don’t understand.’ ”

Smith, who arrived here in July in a trade with the Timberwolves, has been bothered by a sore lower back and did not play Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center. He is averaging 7.6 points and 3.8 rebounds, coming off the bench almost exclusively.

But the minutes have varied wildly for the soon-to-be free agent. For example, most recently he had 25 points and 10 rebounds in a win against Houston on March 25 and then played a mere 12 minutes or so in the next game against Golden State. That’s been a frequent pattern.

“If you look at Craig, when he has been given the chance to perform, he performs,” said his agent Noah Lookofsky, president of All Pro Sports. “And then, the next night, he can walk out on the floor and because there’s not a defined role for him, they can give him five minutes and that’s it.

“End of story. As his agent, no, I don’t feel he has a defined role on the team.”

This does not mean Smith wants to go elsewhere when he becomes a free agent on July 1. Quite the contrary.

He wants to stay with the Clippers, and is going to hire high-profile personal trainer Gunnar Peterson to take his conditioning to the next level, planning on working with him five days a week in the summer. Also included in the off-season regime is a change in eating habits.

Smith firmly believes the Clippers have the proper pieces in place to make an impact next season, that no massive overhaul is needed.

“All it really needs is just some tweaking,” he said. “It’s like when your brakes are squeaking. Your brakes are just squeaking.

“You don’t need a new car -- just the new brakes.”