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Scott Howard-Cooper

Now 24 and in his sixth NBA season, Sebastian Telfair seems more than content being outside the spotlight.
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Clippers' Telfair finding his way without the hype

Posted Dec 19 2009 10:21AM

There is nothing particularly different about him. Sebastian Telfair is still in the NBA, a Clipper now, still a 6-foot playmaker, still quick, still a recognizable name.

It's everything around him that's changed. The city, the role, the attention. Definitely the attention.

Telfair is the backup point guard on the backup team in town, about as far removed from the hype as possible. In the rotation and out of the headlines. The opposite of his early NBA years, in other words, when his star turn as a New York City prep phenom and Sports Illustrated cover boy at 18 made him a big name even if his game didn't.


This is his sixth season and fourth team, and Telfair is apologizing to no one. It hasn't been the career he and others envisioned, but it has been a career, a long run with no sign of slowing down, not at that position that's always in demand and especially not the way Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy talks up his basketball IQ.

Funny thing about the Telfair of 2009-10. The very moment he officially drifted into the background, not even starting the way he did part-time with the Timberwolves, playing for the Clippers in a Lakers town, as anonymous as he has been in the NBA is the time he has never been more comfortable.

"Absolutely," he said. "The hype wore off a little bit. My last two years in Minnesota were great for me. I had some big games, I got my career together, I got my life together off the court. I'm ready to be a pro now."

He got married. He got kids. He got centered.

"It seemed like everywhere you were before this ..." Telfair is told, before he finishes the sentence himself:

"... the spotlight's been on me."

Exactly. If not entirely on him -- the Timberwolves had Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, the Celtics had Paul Pierce, the Trail Blazers had Zach Randolph -- then at least on the caricature of Telfair the Magnificent, the product of the hype machine.

It's different now. Like he's able to relax more.

"When you come off the bench, you don't actually relax, because you have to work harder," he said. "Those minutes are so key. If your team is up when you come into the game, you've got to either extend that lead or keep that lead. That pressure is on you. Or if we're down, they expect you to bring that energy, especially a guy like me. So I wouldn't say the pressure is different."

The hype is off then. Maybe that's a better way to put it. The hype is off.

"The hype is off," he seconded. "I think that helps me. It was great or nothing for me. I felt like in this league I played a lot of good games. I did some good things in this league and it's so overlooked by the hype. If I wasn't great every night, a lot of people looked me off. I'm still coming. I'm in my sixth year, I'm 24 years old, I'm healthy. I think there's a lot more to see from me."

The Clippers got him along with Mark Madsen and Craig Smith in the July 20, 2009, deal that sent Quentin Richardson to Minnesota, then made him the backup to Baron Davis at point guard, a meaningful role for a team that hoped to contend for the playoffs and liked the contrast of Telfair's quickness as a counter off the bench to Davis' strength. Dunleavy especially liked that Telfair was experienced and would make good decisions.

The result 25 games later is Telfair averaging 15.4 minutes, along with five points and 2.7 assists. The career-long shooting struggles continue at 41.3 percent, except that's on pace to be the best mark of his six seasons that so far has included just one at better than 40.

"He's getting older, he's more calm and collected, more relaxed about the situation and not rushing into things," Smith said. "You can see it out there on the floor. The patience on the floor that he has and the direction he gives us when he's out there leading."

That's Telfair now, patient after rushing into the NBA directly from high school as the No. 13 pick in 2004, able to give direction after finding his own way, calm when the early years as a pro were a hectic spotlight existence. He found his somewhere between great and nothing.

"No craziness," Telfair said. "It's easy. The only thing I've got to do is come and play basketball. I can deal with people that expect that from me. I'm OK with those expectations."

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here.

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