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Art Garcia

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Once again, Chris Kaman and the Clippers are left wondering what lies in the future.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

As Dunleavy firing illustrates, Clips remain unpredictable


Posted Mar 10 2010 3:45PM

Asked about the firing Tuesday of general manager Mike Dunleavy, also the coach when this season started, Clippers veteran Baron Davis summed it up succinctly.

"At this point," Davis said after a Tuesday night loss at Orlando, "nothing surprises me."

When it comes to assessing the moves of this star-crossed franchise, expect anything and everything. Los Angeles' other team came into the season with playoff hopes, a No. 1 Draft pick and a nice mix of talent. They weren't the Lakers, but the Clippers were supposed to contend for a spot among the Western Conference's top eight and maybe shock some of the big boys along the way.

We'd heard it all before. Blake Griffin hurt his knee in the last preseason game and was done before playing a second. Players began to tune out/turn on Dunleavy as a decent early start disintegrated into an awful January. He retreated to the front office on Feb. 4.

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And now Dunleavy, part of the team since 2003, is gone.

To say that the Clippers are snakebitten doesn't do justice to the word. They seem to be in a perpetual state of three steps back for every half-step forward.

"It's just hard to comment on anything another organization does because you don't know why or how," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said, "and multiply that by about 10 with the Clippers."

That Dunleavy entered the season as the third-longest tenured coach in the league almost came off as a bad punchline. Either he had the best lawyer around or an owner (Donald Sterling) who didn't mind losing as long as the luxury-tax checks were pouring in.

Dunleavy, who finishes at 215-325 in his Clippers' tenure, survived for more than six years with one winning season and one trip to the playoffs. Still, he told reporters Tuesday night that he was stunned by the firing.

"Had no clue!" he said in an e-mail to the Los Angeles Times.

The Clippers will have a projected $15.4 million in cap space this summer after moving several players, including Marcus Camby and Al Thornton, before the trade deadline. Leaving the franchise in position to pursue a big-time free agent has to go on the positive side of Dunleavy's ledger, right?

"I wonder who made that decision," All-Star center Chris Kaman admitted. "There are so many people involved, as a GM, did he do a good job getting rid of all that money?"

Interim coach Kim Hughes broke the news of Dunleavy's firing to the team after the Orlando loss. Assistant general manager Neil Olshey, with the organization since 2003, has been promoted.

"I thought Mike was going to focus on being the GM and that's what I thought was going to be the course of events," said Hughes, Dunleavy's former assistant. "I'm a little bit shocked that it occurred, but I've been around long enough to know that nothing should be shocking anymore."

Davis added: "This is kind of like another monkey wrench in a roller-coaster season for us."

Sterling apparently decided, according to the release that announced the firing, that "the goal of building a winning team is best served by making this decision at this time. The team has simply not made sufficient progress during Dunleavy's seven-year tenure. The Clippers want to win now."

As much as Dunleavy did or didn't do, the timing of the move is curious. How much can happen in the "progress" department over the last five weeks of the regular season? Maybe it gives Olshey a head start on another long offseason and the search for the team's next coach.

Still, the Clippers (25-38) have lost four straight and 15 of their last 20. The problems that Dunleavy couldn't cure from either post, according to Davis, are deep and varied.

"It's rotation, it's chemistry, it's lack of identity," he said. "It's a lot of things going on right now during this four-game losing streak that shouldn't really be going on."

Davis didn't pin the struggles on Hughes, acknowledging it's hard for a coach to make significant changes in the middle of the season. But it also doesn't sound as if Davis believes Hughes has pushed the right buttons, either.

"We've been doing things to half-effort, I think, at times, confused a lot," Davis said. "Right now I think guys on this team are just confused, and the best way to work out of a slump is to play hard."

Dunleavy is still owed $5.4 million through the end of next season.

"I knew he was here for another year, and all I know is he was my coach, and from that point, now he's gone," Davis said. "It's a crazy season."

With the Clippers, it usually is.

A tough out

The Kings aren't going to the playoffs. A promising start has given way to a rough last two months, but you wouldn't know it watching coach Paul Westphal chest bump Spencer Hawes in pregame warm-ups. They're still scrapping and having fun, despite the results.

"It's the culture we're trying to build," Westphal said. "We model ourselves after some teams that have done it that way. After Oklahoma City drafted Kevin Durant, they won 20 games. The next year they won 23 after they already have Durant, [Jeff] Green and they got [Russell] Westbrook.

"What we want to do is keep our spirit and keep our eye on the goal, and just use every practice and every game to focus on improvement, and playing hard and playing together. I think the guys have done a great job of seeing that."

Westphal's comical mid-air collision with Hawes was the good-natured resolution of a public spat over playing time. Westphal, 59, knows disagreements pop up from time to time and he appreciates the competitive nature of his players. He said that kind of fight is something the Kings look for in their Draft picks and in every transaction.

Even though they're losing more often than not, they don't go down easily. In their last four setbacks, each against teams currently in the West's top eight, Sacramento has lost by eight points or less. The Kings have also beaten Utah and Houston in the last two weeks.

"We want to be a tough out until we turn the corner," Westphal said. "And we think we're close to turning the corner. You never know when that's going to happen. If you don't play hard, you're never going to turn the corner."

Spring break in Phoenix

If Steve Nash decided to spend the week in Cancun, could you blame him? The Suns are in the midst of a much-needed five-day break to regroup and rest up for the stretch run. Phoenix last played Saturday and doesn't return to the hardwood until Friday against the Lakers.

"It's really a good time for us even though we're playing good basketball," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said.

Nash has been given the three scheduled practices off. His backup, Goran Dragic, is returning from an ankle sprain and Leandro Barbosa is practicing for the first time since wrist surgery in late January.

The Suns (40-25) have won 13 of their last 17 to climb to fifth in the West. The upcoming schedule is also tailor-made to keep that momentum going, with five straight at home and only four of the next 11 opponents with winning records.

Quotable

"It just so happens that Golden State has diarrhea of the mouth."
-- Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley on supposed trade talks with the Warriors.

Starting 5

1. Big Baby might have been an Oscar Baby if it wasn't for those darn Celtics and the playoffs.

2. Wonder if LeBron can fit back into the Cavs' system.

3. It wasn't that long ago when Tony Parker listed all his injuries he's gone through season and thought it was all behind him. Knock didn't meet wood.

4. Next up on the tee: Mike Dunleavy, Eddie Jordan and Ed Stefanski.

5. Worst sequel since Grease 2? T-Mac averaging less than his uniform number (2.7 points per game) on the second night of back-to-backs and 17.3 in all other games for Knicks.

Give-n-Go: Carl Landry

AG: What's life been like since the trade from Houston?

CL: It's been moving fast. When I'm in Sacramento, I'm on the road. When I'm in Dallas, I'm on the road. It feels like the whole time you're on the road. I'm trying to get adjusted, find a place to live and get comfortable in Sacramento.

AG: People don't often realize what a trade is like for a player.

CL: My favorite spots I like to eat at in Houston or hanging out with my friends are gone. I didn't know where the bathroom was when I got to Sacramento. You don't know a lot of people's names.

AG: The trade must have been a shock.

CL: I didn't hear my name in any rumors. When I found out I got traded, I looked at it like a blessing. Everything happens for a reason. The opportunity here is great and I have a chance to take my game to another level.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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