By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Sep 9 2009 9:49AM
Los Angeles Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy isn't about to dance around the obvious. For a franchise that's spent most of its existence snakebit, the ping pong-inspired fortune of May culminating with a New York moment in June serves as a heck of a starting point for 2009-10.
"We've had a great summer," Dunleavy told NBA.com. "Obviously, it started with a little bit of luck in getting the first pick of the lottery to get Blake Griffin, but then from there we did a lot of good things."
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Picking up the consensus No. 1 pick in the Draft was the start of an offseason of restructuring and reorganizing. Trading away power forward Zach Randolph made room for Griffin and allowed Dunleavy, also the team's general manager, to beef up a lean bench.
Combo guard Eric Gordon and small forward Al Thornton join Griffin as long-term foundation pieces. The veteran starters -- headed by Baron Davis, Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby -- have been productive when they've been able to stay on the court.
Should the pieces fall into place, Dunleavy is predicting an end to the cycle of mediocrity. The Clippers, 19-63 last season, have made the postseason just once in Dunleavy's first six years at the helm (2006) and just four times since the franchise relocated to California in 1978. The 2006 squad is the only one ever to win a series in the Western Conference.
"If we stay healthy and we get good chemistry going from this group, we're a Playoff contender," he said. "We've got a shot to make the Playoffs. Normally I'd say we are a Playoff team, but the West is so hard and the teams are so good. You might have to win 46 games just to get in there. So from 19 to 46 would be a pretty amazing jump for us, but we're hoping to do it."
The notoriously frugal Clippers have been able to add to the talent base the last two offseasons without losing real assets. Operating below the salary cap, the team traded for Camby before last season and Rasual Butler this offseason without giving up anything more than a second-round pick in either case.
Moving Randolph provided extra payroll flexibility, and Dunleavy focused his sights on depth. Clipper reserves scored a paltry 24 points per game last season, which was 28th in the league.
"Randolph was a guy we really liked," Dunleavy said. "He's a guy who can give you 20 and 10, which is tough to give up, but we just couldn't figure out how those two guys [Randolph and Griffin] could play together. So instead of stacking a position, we were basically able to turn Randolph into Sebastian Telfair, Craig Smith and Rasual Butler.
"That gave us a lot of really good depth for our bench. That was something we were trying to accomplish, and we were able to do it pretty smoothly and seamlessly. All those guys are very good chemistry wise for our team."
Aiding the locker room vibe is a prime piece of Playa Vista real estate that Dunleavy hopes builds a year-round connection to the franchise. Players already enjoy living in Los Angeles. Might as well get them in your gym.
"The thing I'm happy about is it's the first year we've had a practice facility," Dunleavy said of the $50 million hub of operations that opened a year ago. "We didn't have it last summer. We've had guys in working there and around each other, and that's always a great thing. We have a great practice facility. Guys have been drawn to it and spend a lot of time here, and I think that bodes well for us as well."
Griffin also signals a new beginning for the Clippers. The franchise has won the lottery before, but Danny Manning (1988) and Michael Olowokandi (1998) didn't exactly set the league or the Clippers ablaze. Lady Luck may finally be smiling on the other team in Los Angeles and the good teams somehow manage to get their share of breaks.
"There's no question about that, absolutely," Dunleavy said. "Blake Griffin is clearly the best player in this Draft, so to get the guy who's the clear best player in the Draft is helpful. He's a great kid, with a great work ethic and he's going to be a great player for us for many years to come.
"But if we had not gotten Blake, we would have got a good player and we would have had a good team. The team is set up to have a chance to be a good team for a long time. You look at the age of our guys between Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Al Thornton, Blake Griffin and Chris Kaman. Then you have DeAndre Jordan in the wings. We have a good mix of veterans and young guys, and that's what you want to have to win."
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Los Angeles Clippers
Marcus Camby , Mardy Collins, Baron Davis, Ricky Davis (re-signed), Eric Gordon, DeAndre Jordan, Chris Kaman, Mike Taylor, Al Thornton
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