Most coaches are reluctant to lavish praise on a second-year player who missed most of his rookie season, especially when that player is a sapling-thin 20-year-old who jumped straight from high school to the pros. But Mike Dunleavy can't help himself when the subject is point guard Shaun Livingston. "Shaun has an extremely high IQ for the game, and he delivers the ball better than anybody I've ever seen," says the Clippers' coach. "His talent level is off the chart."
After being selected with the fourth pick of the 2004 draft, the 6'7", 175-pound Livingston missed 52 games because of knee and shoulder injuries. Concerns about his fragile physique, however, soon gave way to raves about his dazzling ability. Livingston returned to the lineup in late March and was named the conference's Rookie of the Month in April, when he averaged 11.0 points, and 7.4 assists. "He's only getting better," Dunleavy says. "The key now is for him to stay healthy and play 82 games. If he can, he could be amazing."
Less breathless in his assessment of Livingston was point guard Sam Cassell, the 12-year veteran whom Los Angeles obtained from the Timberwolves in an August trade. Upon his arrival, Cassell declared that Livingston wasn't ready to lead the team. "Sam's a veteran with a capital V," says Livingston. "He's won two titles. Those are his words, but he doesn't set the lineup."
Cassell was more diplomatic about his playmaking counterpart during training camp, saying, "Shaun reminds me of Jason Kidd the way he passes." Says Dunleavy, who will likely begin the season bringing Livingston off the bench. "Sam will relish that opportunity [to be a mentor]. He understands the potential Shaun has."
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Clippers
"On paper they look talented enough to make a push for the playoffs, but chemistry is going to be a big issue. Four of their starters-- Corey Maggette, Cuttino Mobley, Sam Cassell and Elton Brand--are all looking to shoot it when they get it, so the ball isn't going to be circulating a lot.... These guys are known for taking bad shots too--though none is quite the offender that Maggette is. I just can't imagine him giving the ball up when he gets it. If they could find a way to swap him for a team player like Shane Battier or Bruce Bowen, then Mobley, Cassell and Brand might be able to coexist.... The other starter, Chris Kaman, has a nice little hook shot with either hand, he can pass, and he's very good at seeing the game and setting picks. But he's playing with guys who are knuckleheads. He could be really good with his next team--or it might turn out that his development was ruined by this team.... They have a lot of scorers, but Mobley is their only true shooter. He's the one guy you don't want to leave alone on the perimeter.... They get a double benefit with Cassell: Not only does he have a history of playing well in his first year with a team, but he's also playing for a new contract."
Last season, for the first time since the Staples Center opened in 1999, the Clippers won more home games (27) than their cotenants, the Lakers (22).
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004-05 statistics
Record: 37-45 (10th in West)
Points scored: 95.7 (19th in NBA)
Points allowed: 96.5 (12th)
Coach: Mike Dunleavy
(third season with the Clippers)