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Catching Up With Coach Mike Dunleavy
by Andrew Pearson
A veteran of the NBA for a combined 25 seasons as a player and coach, Mike Dunleavy has enjoyed great success, having been honored as the 1999 NBA Coach of the Year in addition to reaching the NBA Finals twice (once as a player and once as a coach). Last season as head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, Dunleavy led the team to its first playoff birth since the 1996-97 season, eliminating the Denver Nuggets in the first round before eventually falling to Phoenix in the Western Conference Semifinals. Dunleavy spoke about last season and what he expects for the upcoming season.
Would you say that last seasonís success with the Clippers was one of the most fulfilling years of your career, especially given the franchiseís history
Dunleavy: Definitely. Not many people believed what we could do. All through training camp and last summer when we made our acquisitions, I was confident that we had a playoff team as long as we could stay healthy. With Corey Maggette being out 50 games, we were able to survive more injuries than I thought we would. Our guys really came together and did a great job.
How have the fans been handling the Clippersí newfound success?
Dunleavy: We have great fans and some really loyal fans that have been here for a really long time. Just seeing them and the excitement our success created for them was wonderful. Basically they havenít been able to hold their heads high here for a while and now they are in a position where you see lots more cars with Clipper flags and people wearing Clipper gear, so itís been great from that standpoint.
How important was it to re-sign Sam Cassell this offseason, both for the Clippers and for the development of Shaun Livingston?
Dunleavy: A big part of our success last year was because of Sam and Cuttino. Both guys came into training camp and blended with our team immediately, which was surprising. There was no integration period. That helped us get off to a really good start.
Cassell and Dunleavy will continue to mentor Shaun Livingston.
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I think this year, with guys being comfortable with each other and more familiar, it will be positive and I think that another year for Shaun with Sam under his belt will be good. They can also play together, so itís not limited to one guy playing and the other guy not playing. But I think Sam is a great guy for Shaun to learn from.
Tim Thomas helped end the Clippers season in the playoffs as a member of the Suns and now he is playing for you. What does he bring to the Clippers?
Dunleavy: We were looking for a big guy who could go out and shoot the ball from range and Tim had that ability. That was a positive for us. He gives us versatility to play him as a big three, a power forward or a small center if we want to really play small at times. The versatility he brings was something that we were searching for all last year. We think that heíll blend nicely with the guys we already have on our front line Ė Chris Kaman, Elton Brand, Zeljko Rebraca. All those guys have been in the system and played well. We added Aaron Williams as well in the offseason, so we feel like we have a real solid front line.
What is the biggest challenge this season now that teams know how good the Clippers are?
Dunleavy: Basically what Iíve always preached to our guys is that you lead with your defense. If youíre there night in and night out with your defense, if you put yourself in position to win ballgames, with the guys we have on our team, we feel that if we get in close games, we can win. Guys like Sam and Elton make big shots. Weíre looking for improvement from a lot of our young guys with another year of experience under their belt and another year in the system. Things hopefully will become easier for everybody.
The team is traveling to Moscow as part of the NBA Europe Live Tour presented by Electronic Arts. Ever been to Moscow?
Dunleavy: Iíve been to Moscow twice. It is a very historical city. If youíre into history, itís amazing. Thereís different architecture for all the different regimes that have been in power over the years, from the Kremlin, the history of the Cold War and all that went on between the two countries. Itís becoming much more Westernized now. A very interesting place.
It should be also be a good chance to gain some new fans as well, shouldn't it?
Dunleavy: From our standpoint we always look at it as a chance to spread the Clipper name to another place. Yaroslav Korolev, who we drafted last year, is from the CSKA Moscow system, so I think that was one of the reasons that they requested we be the team to play over there. That and the fact that our team is exciting to watch play, a fun brand of basketball. I think it was a combination of all the above. But we hope to convert a lot of Clipper fans in Russia.