Clippers baffle with inconsistency
Two days after beating the Jazz, the Clippers flopped against the Suns
Baron Davis is often targeted for the team's bad chemistry, inconsistency
With $16.5 million in salary-cap space, next season should be different
LOS ANGELES -- There are times when you watch the Clippers play and think, Huh, maybe they have something here.
Take Monday, for example. Playing the tail end of a back-to-back and facing the white-hot Jazz, the Clippers delivered one of their finest performances of the season. All-Star center Chris Kaman (14 rebounds) dominated the glass, while Eric Gordon (24 points) drained jumpers from all over the floor and Drew Gooden chipped in 19 points and 11 rebounds. The result was a wire-to-wire, 108-104 victory that had the smattering of scouts in attendance shaking their heads in bewilderment.
But there are times when you watch the Clippers (25-36) and you wonder how they ever managed to beat anyone. Two nights after the win over Utah, L.A. played the Washington Generals to the Suns' Harlem Globetrotters, allowing Phoenix to shoot 55.6 percent from the field and 52.2 percent from behind the three-point line in a 127-101 rout that was all but over after the Suns' 39-18 third quarter.
"I don't know what it is," Gordon said. "Some games we play together, some games we don't. Sometimes we work hard, sometimes we don't. That's been the balance of this team all year."
Coach Kim Hughes knew what he was getting into when an embattled Mike Dunleavy handed him the reins in February so that Dunleavy could focus on his duties as general manager. This wasn't Hughes' type of team. The Clippers didn't run. They didn't rebound. Their chemistry wasn't good and the team was out of shape. Hughes' family thought he was nuts to take over, but he accepted the job anyway because his longtime buddy Dunleavy asked him to. And because, well, head-coaching gigs don't come along every day.
"It's tough," Hughes said. "I didn't pick these guys. It's not my style of team. But it doesn't mean that I can't coach this style and try to do it. I'm not afraid of challenges."
Challenges? Coaching the Clippers has become tougher than climbing Mount Everest with a walking stick. Chemistry is a word echoed often by anyone familiar with the Clippers and the name Baron Davis is almost always mentioned in the same breath. Davis has been a model of inconsistency since he signed a five-year, $65 million contract with his hometown team in 2008. He arrived in L.A. overweight and quickly butted heads with his coach, all while giving the impression that his interests off the court were more important than anything he did on it.
As a result, his scoring dropped from the low 20s in his last two years with Golden State to the mid-teens this season. His shooting has hovered below 40 percent the last two seasons and his 28.2 three-point shooting percentage this season is his lowest since his rookie year. On Monday, Davis helped fuel a late Jazz run by committing two turnovers and a shooting foul on Deron Williams in the final minute of the fourth quarter.
"They know they have to move him," said a league source familiar with the team. "He has been a disaster. They just can't win with him."
To be fair, it's realistic to expect the Clippers to be significantly better next season. They will have No. 1 pick Blake Griffin, who has missed the entire season with a knee injury, back in the lineup. They will plug another lottery pick into the mix in June. And they will have $16.5 million in salary-cap space to wave in front of one of the marquee free agents this summer.
And they will get someone. No, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh aren't relocating to Hollywood. But Rudy Gay might. Several NBA executives believe that the Grizzlies' restricted free-agent forward will be the Clippers' top target, in part because they have a gaping hole at small forward and in part because they are one of the few teams that will be willing to overpay for a prolific scorer with zero playoff appearances on his résumé.
But just who will oversee this new roster? Clippers owner Donald Sterling has had numerous chances to hand Dunleavy his walking papers and has passed every time. It's doubtful he will now, not with Dunleavy in the final year of his deal and not after he saved the other Donald millions by moving the multiyear contracts of Al Thornton and Sebastian Telfair for Gooden's expiring deal.
And Dunleavy isn't about to bring in a high-profile coach who would instantly have more credibility than he would. He could opt to retain Hughes, who is desperate for a full training camp and a revamped roster to show what he can do, or he can dip into the assistant ranks for a John Kuester-type, someone who won't come with a high price tag and will fall in line behind him.
Will it work? It's the Clippers. You never really know what you are going to get.
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