The Clippers missed the playoffs last year by only two games and they had high hopes for 2007-08 until Elton Brand
ruptured his Achillesí tendon in early August. Brand hopes to return by the All-Star break around which time fourth-year point guard Shaun Livingston
should also be back from a serious knee injury he sustained last February while in the midst of the most productive season of his career.
The Clippers used 24 different starting lineups last season and with the losses of Brand, Livingston, and Jason Hart (who left via free agency for Utah) and the inevitable slowing of point man Sam Cassell (who turns 38 in November), expect to see coach Mike Dunleavy use a myriad of rotations. Newly signed free agents Brevin Knight, Ruben Patterson, and Josh Powell should compete with draft picks Al Thornton (No. 14 in 2007) and Guillermo Diaz (No. 52 in 2006) for minutes. The unpredictability of the starting lineup will give fantasy owners fits but it will give a nearly every Clipper on the roster the chance to earn minutes.
Ultimately the Clippers will try to develop enough team chemistry to stay competitive in the playoff hunt until Brand, the cornerstone of the team, can return. If they are nowhere near contention come March, Brand and Livingston might be better off not rushing back to action and Los Angeles fans could be in for a long season.
The Clippers have a backcourt crowded with grizzled veterans. Sam Cassell (14 years in the league) and Cuttino Mobley
(9 years) should start for L.A. although pass-first floor general Brevin Knight (10 years) should see significant time as Cassellís backup.
Quinton Ross and Corey Maggette can both fill in at either shooting guard or small forward and you can expect Dunleavy Sr. to play either one in the backcourt if injury problems arise. The Clippers also reportedly have their eye on journeyman point guard Dan Dickau, who was recently released by the Knicks, most likely in fear that Cassell may not be able to shake the injury problems that plagued him last year.
With the loss of Elton Brand, the Clippers frontcourt situation has become as crowded as their backcourt. Maggette, the teamís second leading scorer behind Brand last year at 16.9 points per game, and Tim Thomas
should start to begin the season. Their jobs though are by no means guaranteed. Quinton Ross started in 43 games last year and Ruben Patterson started in 53 for the Bucks. Both should be hungry for starting jobs. Patterson, once the self-proclaimed ďKobe Stopper,Ē brings defensive tenacity and the ability to guard four positions. Donít be surprised if Patterson, who averaged 14.7 points per game and on 55 percent shooting from the floor last season, works his way into the starting lineup. Finally, talented rookie Al Thornton can score from anywhere on the floor and heís sure to get burn.
will start at center while backups Aaron Williams
, a 13-year veteran, and Paul Davis
, in his second year out of Michigan State, will compete for the remaining minutes.
-- John Jacobson
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Corey Maggette has put together a solid eight-year NBA career but many would say he has never quite lived up to expectations. Maggette and Elton Brand both became the first underclassmen ever to leave Duke early back in 1999 but while coach Mike Krzyzewski gave Brand his blessing, he publicly stated that Maggette should have stayed at least another year. Nevertheless, Maggette entered the draft and eventually blossomed into a 20 point a game scorer for the Clippers. Even with this success, critics have questioned his shot selection, playmaking skills (only 2.1 assists per game for his career), and his ability to play within a team concept. With Brand out for most of the season, his former Blue Devil teammate will finally be the number one option on the team. Can Maggette get along with Dunleavy Sr. (with whom he occasionally feuded with last year), share the ball, and fill the scoring void left by Brand? If he can, the Clippers may have a good shot of snagging a playoff spot in the West.
-- John Jacobson
||Elton Brand led or tied for the team lead in assists in 21 games last year. Only Sam Cassell and Shaun Livingston (27 times each) accomplished that feat more times.
Fifteenth Season, Fifth with Clippers
Seven times, 38-33 (.535)
Head coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. enters his fifth season with the Clippers in second place on the franchiseís all-time win list. His team will have to overcome serious injury problems if they hope to return to the Western Conference Semifinals as they did in 2005-06. That playoff run - - the teamís first playoff series win since 1976 - - secured him a contract extension last season. He will have his work cut out for him this year as he tries to establish a solid rotation of players that can remain in playoff contention until Elton Brand returns. Donít be surprised if Dunleavy at least attempts to play small ball with his bevy of athletic forwards when Kaman needs a rest.
-- John Jacobson
Elton Brand is a huge loss. Heís a post-up guy, heís the guy they play through, he does their dirty work Ö Heís their best player. Losing him sets that team back.
They need to spread it out and shoot threes with Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas and let Sam Cassell and Maggette work to get in the lane.
Trying to find an identity for this team is going to be a challenge for this team.
Brevin Knight is a vet whoís been around. He can settle that team down if Sam gets hurt or canít play as many minutes. He can distribute the ball and heís tough. That was big to be able to nab that guy with Sam being at the end of his career.
-- Western Conference Scout