Posted: Wednesday May 10, 2006 11:10AM; Updated: Wednesday May 10, 2006 3:11PM
Second-year pro Shaun Livingston may be the Clippers' future at point, but their present wouldn't be nearly so rosy without Cassell.
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
But if he were a GM, would he be willing to invest $15 million over two years on a guy old enough to have once played with Earl Cureton?
"If he's still got it. If he's still got it, I would. Yep," Cassell says. "I'm doing things that guys 22, 23, 24 can't do. So that should answer your question right there. You're not paying me for being 36 or 37. You're paying me for what I can do right now. And I'm still able to do it.
"I'm still getting double-teamed on the pick-and-roll, aren't I?"
Cassell indeed has remained a very effective player. Plus, his game is not as dependent on athleticism as other point guards. He still kills as much with guile and cunning as he does with that mid-range jumper.
That's why as many as a dozen teams -- including the Lakers, Nuggets, Rockets, T'wolves and Mavs -- are said to be interested in his services.
Moreover, Cassell is a leader. He's the one who gets the ball to the right player at the right time. He's the one who calms the team down when things are going haywire. He's the one who speaks up in the huddle when the coach can't say another word. It's hard to believe the Clippers would risk losing him, even with Shaun Livingston waiting in the wings.
Cassell, incidentally, seems to understand that the Clippers or any new team might want him at some point to give up his starting role. While he did not address Livingston specifically, he says he would be willing to come off the bench in the right situation.
"It all depends on who's in front of me," Cassell says. "It's got to be a bona fide star. I'm not coming off the bench for some ordinary point guard. It's got to be an All-Star type or somebody of that caliber.
"But I can be very effective [in that role]. I guarantee you that if the starter goes out, the lead won't go down. It might go up. It's a luxury any coach in the league would like to have, to put a reserve in there who can run a team and do all the things that I can do."
Look for Cassell to remain with the Clippers when all is said and done. Since most teams are over the salary cap, they can only offer free agents a deal starting at the mid-level exception (around $5.1 million). As one Western Conference GM who wished to remain anonymous noted Monday, "the Clippers are really in the driver's seat."
But Cassell has some options if the Clippers don't make him what he thinks is a fair offer. He could try to force a sign-and-trade. He could also take the mid-level someplace else and leave the Clippers with nothing.
Cassell clearly hopes it doesn't come to that. Not that he's spending much time thinking about it. Despite having just burned up some precious cell minutes, he says his sole focus these days is on dropping dimes on the Suns.
"I'm a Clipper right now. I put all that [other] stuff aside," he says. "I'm a professional, man. I don't worry about it. I don't need that to motivate me. My motivation is to win games, to lead this team. I know what I bring to the club. I'm here to make 'em a winner. That's all I'm focusing on right now. Just playing basketball. Everything else will take care of itself."
So there you have it, Clippers fans. Sam I Am isn't worried about it. You shouldn't be, either.