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L. Jon Wertheim
October 29, 2001
It might look like a college team, but this erstwhile laughingstock is finally starting to play like a pro power
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October 29, 2001

8 Los Angeles Clippers

It might look like a college team, but this erstwhile laughingstock is finally starting to play like a pro power

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projected lineup

2001-01 record: 31-51 (sixth in Pacific)

Coach: Alvin Gentry (second season with Clippers)



2000-01 KEY STATS


Lamar Odom


17.2 ppg

7.8 rpg

5.2 apg

1.61 bpg

46.0 FG%


Elton Brand#


20.1 ppg

10.1 rpg

3.2 apg

1.59 bpg

47.6 FG%


Michael Olowokandi


8.5 ppg

6.4 rpg

1.32 bpg

43.5 FG%

54.5 3FG%


Eric Piatkowski


10.6 ppg

1.2 apg

3.0 rpg

43.3 G%

40.4 3FG%


Jeff Mclnnis


12.9 ppg

5.5 apg

2.7 rpg

0.93 spg

46.3 FG%



2000-01 KEY STATS


Darius Miles


9.4 ppg

5.9 rpg

1.2 apg

1.54 bpg

50.5 FG%


Corey Maggette


10.0 ppg

4.2 rpg

1.2 apg

0.51 spg

46.2 FG%


Quentin Richardson


8.1 ppg

3.4 rpg

0.55 spg

44.2 FG%

33.1 3FG%


Keyon Dooling


5.9 ppg

2.3 apg

1.2 rpg

0.54 spg

40.9 FG%


Sean Rooks


5.4 ppg

3.7 rpg

0.78 bpg

0.41 spg

42.8 FG%

#New acquisition

(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)

*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)

Last April 16 even the clippers' die-hard supporters had to rub their eyes and pinch themselves. In its final home game, Los Angeles waxed the playoff-bound Suns 100-80 to finish a run of 10 victories in its final 11 home games. A Staples Center crowd of 19,347, the Clippers' 11th sellout of the season, spent most the fourth quarter performing the wave and then topped off the evening with a protracted standing ovation. After the final buzzer fans stormed the court, and forwards Lamar Odom and Darius Miles danced on the press table. Sure the win was only L.A.'s 31st against 50 defeats, and yes, the Clippers were 25 games out of first place, but it marked a dramatic improvement from their 15-67 record in 1999-2000 and showed that the franchise had something it had rarely been thought to possess before: a future.

Los Angeles fans grew even more rapturous on draft day when the Clippers acquired power forward Elton Brand, a reliable 20-point-10-rebound player, in exchange for 18-year-old Tyson Chandler, the second pick. It was less a trade than a heist, and it enabled Los Angeles to fill its most obvious need—a rugged rebounder. Before long the Clips had increased their season-ticket sales to roughly 12,000, the most since they moved from San Diego to LA. 17 years ago. When, a few days later, Odom boldly predicted that the Clippers would make the playoffs this season, few questioned his sanity. "Let the good times roll," he says. "Let 'em roll."

Come again? Clippers? Good times? Isn't this the team that's synonymous with sustained futility, the laughingstock franchise that a certain esteemed weekly magazine dismissed not long ago as the worst organization in professional sports? Isn't this the club from which forward Maurice Taylor demanded his parole (his word) after the 1999-2000 season? "Hey, times are changing," says Miles. "Believe the hype."

The hype stems largely from a nucleus of flashy, young players whose passion and athleticism (read: cool dunks) compensate for lapses in concentration and sloppy fundamentals. The most callow collection in NBA history, the Clippers are barely older than a college team. Six players in the regular rotation—guards Quentin Richardson, Keyon Dooling and Miles, and forwards Corey Maggette, Odom and Brand—are between 20 and 22. Amazingly, none is a rookie. "This is the reality of the NBA these days," says coach Alvin Gentry. "The players are younger, and if you can't accept it, you'll get left behind."

The baby of babies is Miles, who was the third pick in the 2000 draft. Having jumped from East St. Louis (Ill.) High to the NBA, Miles endured some rough patches. But owing to his slashing game and open-court skills, he averaged 9.4 points and 5.9 rebounds. After spending the summer working on his outside shot and adding some heft to his coat-hanger 6'9", 210-pound physique, he is aching to start his sophomore year. "I want our first game to be today," said Miles during the first week of training camp. "Now that we have Elton, even we don't know what we're capable of."

It falls on Gentry to play alchemist and transform this unbridled optimism into wins. During training camp, he frequently reminded his minions that last season they lost 10 overtime games and squandered fourth-quarter leads in a dozen others. He also made a habit of telling them that they weren't yet the equals of their Staples Center cotenants. "We're not going to go from a team that struggled to close out games," he says, "to looking like the Lakers."

Maybe not. But the days of regarding the Clippers as NBA doormats are as pass� as drafting college seniors. "People that still make jokes about the Clippers are only proving one thing," says Miles. "That they're ignorant about basketball."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]