Being a Clipper fan is not about rooting for a winning team. It’s about hope. Praying things will get better. Thus to look back at this past decade, I present The Top 10 Most Hopeful Clipper Moments. Of course, as you’ll see below, every time of hope… has been followed by disaster.
1. The decade started off with a bang for Clipper fans. Yes, Lamar Odom was drafted in 1999, but it was in January 2000 that he had his most productive month: 19.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.6 assists on 47% shooting. Other highlights from his rookie year? He tied for fourth-place in the NBA on triple-doubles. In the final game of the season he had 33 points, 14 rebounds, 7 assists and 4 blocks. This was a special talent, a PF with a PG’s handle, who could help a team make it to the playoffs.
…Unfortunately those teams were the Heat and the Lakers. But hey, those who said in 2000 that he’d one day help LA get a championship, they were right. In a deluded kinda way.
2. 2000-2001. The double-fist-head-pounding that Darius Miles & Quentin Richardson did. We finally had some young kids who loved to play with each other. Miles had sick athleticism and he and Q brought fun and a sense of potential to the team.
…Little did we realize that D-Miles would never develop and that he’d turn into a malcontent, then an afterthought, and finally someone to briefly sign last year just to screw over Portland’s cap situation. As for Q, his career has stagnated over the years due to back problems and being traded to the Knicks.
3. Summer of 2001. Elgin Baylor makes possibly his biggest coup: a draft-day trade of our #2 pick (who would be Tyson Chandler) for Chicago’s good steady 20-10 guy, Elton Brand. Before EB came here there were whispers that he would always be one of those guys who could only get good stats on bad teams. That he’d never lead a team to the playoffs. Brand debunked that theory by bringing the Clips to the post-season a whopping one time. Yeah, yeah, by then we’d gotten Sam Cassell, Cat Mobley & Chris Kaman, but it was Brand who was the horse as he’s also shown in his post-Clipper career… whats’at? He’s sucked donkey doo-doo for Phillie? The truly sad thing about all this for everyone involved: Chandler has four playoff appearances to Brand’s one.
4. March 29, 2002. In addition to drafting Q & Darius the previous season, the Clips also traded for second-year player Corey Maggette. Michael “Candyman” Olowokandi, who’d never lived up to his #1 draft pick, was finally producing nearly a double-double nightly. Elton Brand made the All-Star team. With longest-tenured Clip Eric Piatkowksi stretching opposing teams’ D, plus fan favorite little man Earl Boykins causing havoc, this was a team on the rise. They’d caught the nation’s attention. On that date, March 29, 2002 they defeated the Phoenix Suns, making their record for the season 37-36. With senior citizens John Stockton & Karl Malone struggling to keep the Jazz in the playoff picture, it looked like the Clips would make it to the big show.
…They promptly lost 7 of 9 games. Actually, the Clips lost 10 of their last 13 games, but we still had hope on that March date after that Phoenix victory.
5. Summer of 2002. Although we’d crumbled at the end of last season, this was a young team with talent at every position except one: point guard. Thus expectations went through the roof when Elgin Baylor traded Darius Miles for Andre Miller. As much as we all loved Darius, Miller had been averaging about ten dimes per game with an awful team in Cleveland. Imagine how many assists he could get here on a team loaded with talent! As if that wasn’t enough, the Clips were finally bringing over 2000 draft pick, European talent Marco Jaric. He was a 6’6” point guard with skills! Not only did we have depth at PG on the bench, but behind Maggette’s 17pts/gm at SG we had Piatkowski, and behind Odom at SF there was good ol’ reliable Q. The team even had a backup big in China’s first NBA player, a guy who’d received raves: Wang Zhizhi.
…Yup, this season’s implosion made last year’s unraveling look like a night at the Oscars. We lost the first three, and five of the first six. In the end the team topped out at 27-55.
6. Summer 2003. Donald Sterling pays players big bucks for the first time ever! Not only that, but a legit successful coach was hired in Mike Dunleavy. Okay, the team didn’t actually make any offers to restricted free agents Elton Brand and Corey Maggette, but still, we matched the offer-sheets from Miami and Utah respectively. When Miami then went after it’s second choice, Lamar Odom, we were even about to match his salary too! Except Odom made it clear over and over again that he really, really, really, really, really did not want to stay with the Clips. Fine. Whatever. The key was that in the past the Clips always signed rookies with potential and then let them walk after they finished their rookie contracts and could demand real money. In addition to Maggette & Brand at the forward spots we still had Q who would start at SG, plus a rookie Chris Kaman at center, and the promising Marco Jaric at PG. Did I mention he was 6’6”! A 6’6” point guard! We were going places!
…Surprisingly Elton Brand broke his foot in the opening night game. Maggette, to his credit, kept the Clippers afloat & in playoff contention willing them to a 6-8 record while Brand was out. Brand returned early December and went on to post his usual 20 and 10. As was the case so often in EB’s career, it didn’t matter. With him back in the lineup, the Clips went 22-46 the rest of the way.
7. Summer of 2004. The LA team was in turmoil. But this time it was the Lakers! Kobe Bryant wasn’t sure he could play with Shaq anymore. Shaq was pissed he hadn’t gotten a huge extension even though he was clearly going downhill. Phil Jackson had found Kobe to be “uncoachable.” And worst for Dr. Jerry Buss, the 25-year old not-yet-Mamba was a free agent. Kobe shopped around the league and he narrowed his options down to two: either stay with the Lakers or sign with the Clippers and still stay in LA. The Clips had his good friend Maggette. Plus there was the huge appeal of trading in a big man (Shaq) who often mailed it in and was on the downside of his career, for a young up-and-coming big (Brand) who never took a possession off. Add in the fact that Kobe would get to clearly be the man for once, and if he got the lowly dysfunctional Clippers, yes, the Clippers!, to win a championship… well, his legacy would be untouchable. Lastly, Kobe was intrigued by the idea of playing for Dunleavy (who, don’t forget, had lead the Portland Trailblazers to within half a quarter of beating the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals and nearly stealing away Kobe’s first ring). Kobe met with Elgin Baylor, Dunleavy & Sterling. It was a good meeting, and Kobe all but agreed to come to the dark side. The Clipper trio was dancing on air. This may surprise you, but
…Kobe called the next day, apologizing, saying he decided last minute to re-sign with the Lakers. I believe he then went on to have some success with that team.
8. Summer of 2005. The bilking of Kevin McHale. In what was considered a coup even at the time, the Clippers managed to trade away ineffective Marco Jaric for Sam Cassell (who just one season earlier had lead the Timberwolves to the Western Conference Finals). Actually, it wasn’t just a straight up trade. The T-Wolves also gave us a future first round draft pick. Whaaat? In order for us to take the better player in the trade, they had to sweeten the deal by tossing in a first rounder? Fine, by us. Turns out McHale did it because after losing so many first rounders due to the Joe Smith fiasco, McHale didn’t know what to do with a first-rounder anymore. Plus, he heard Jaric was a 6’6”, yes, 6’6”, point guard! He would be like Magic, but shorter, European, and bad! In addition, Sterling actually forked over money for Cuttino Mobley (I believe it was the first time Sterling paid more than the minimum for another team’s free agent, but I’m not certain). Unfortunately…
Wait, what am I talkin’ about? This was the one time things turned out well for the Clippers! In addition to those two newbies, Kaman averaged nearly a double-double, plus this was the second year of gifted PG Shaun Livingston (he was also 6’6”, but actually showed serious moments of amazing-a-tude). The Clips not only sewed up a spot in the playoffs, but they even purposely lost a game (or two?) so they could get the first round matchup they wanted (against Denver, which’d mean the Clips would have home-court despite being the lower seed). We whupped the Nugs 4-1. Next round we went up against the Suns who had looked very beatable in the previous round. The Suns had been down 3-1 to the Lakers and had to claw their way back to victory. The Clips lost the first game to the Suns in Arizona, but teams are expected to hold seed on their home court. So the Suns were totally unprepared for the Clips to whup them in the second home game. The teams moved to LA and the Suns managed to even the series at 2-2. The next game would be huuuge. Whoever wins that tie-breaker in these situations tends to win the whole series in like 83% of the time. But we were on the Suns’ turf. At the end of 48 minutes, the game was tied, resulting in overtime. The Clippers were up by 3 points with only 5 seconds to go. It seemed like a sealed deal. However, in an omen for future coaching incompetence, Dunleavy put in a cold Daniel Ewing who hadn’t played a single minute. Ewing had a big defensive mental breakdown, leaving Raja Bell alone in the corner for a three. In double-overtime the Clippers eventually lost. They did win the next game back in LA, tying it all at 3 games apiece, but the Suns got their mojo back in game 7 and won with relative ease. The future looked bright!
…until Cassell aged 41 years during the off-season. He missed countless games due to injury (and was a shell of himself in many of the games he did play). The Clips remained around .500 for the first half of the season thanks to backup PG Shaun Livingston coming into his own.
…But then Livingston’s leg broke in three spots. For 22 of the last 23 games, the Clippers’ starting PG was Jason Hart.
9. Signing Baron Davis, the top free agent in the summer of 2008, on the very first day signing season began.
…Elton Brand left the team a week later. However, the Clips got a decent alternative by stealing Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Camby. Between him and Kaman, the two big slots would be more than ably filled. At SF Al Thornton had shown serious promise his rookie year. And shooting guard would still be good ol’ reliable Cuttino Mobley. Plus there were a couple decent players on the bench with scoring stud Ricky Davis signing on, the sometimes huge Tim Thomas, and some rookie named Eric Gordon who could have potential.
…In the preseason alone, Baron, Camby, Thomas & Gordon all got injured. Baron started off the season in less than ideal shape & hurting. The team promptly lost its first six games. Everyone took turns getting injured. Kaman missed 48 games. Baron and Camby kept their injury history alive. Just the stink of Clippers was enough to injure people, as Mobley was traded early in the season only to discover that due to a heart ailment he had to retire. Zach Randolph came here in the Mobley trade, and of course later in the season he too would miss games due to injury. In the end, the team managed only 19 wins. I know, surprising for a team that by the end of the year gave minutes to players like Jason Hart (who due to those brilliant 23 games the Clips reacquired after he escaped to Utah in the off-season), Brian Skinner, Mardy Collins, Fred Jones, Cheikh Samb, and Alex Acker.
10. Getting the consensus #1 pick in the draft, Blake Griffin!
…until he broke his kneecap somehow in a non-Mafia related incident. The Clips have also suffered through injuries to Eric Gordon, Al Thornton, DeAndre Jordan, and a season-ending one for Kareem Rush. At a few games below .500, all we can hope for is that once Griffin returns, we’ll take it to the next level. However, looking at all the above stuff, I’m thinking maybe it wouldn’t be too good an idea to try to remain hopeful…