Once-Hopeful Clippers Season Ending Miserably
Effort and energy are typically a prerequisite for perspiration, meaning that for these most miserable Clips after a 116-94 loss to the Kings, a few swipes of deodorant would have done the job. Even if they hardly did theirs.
But after Clippers point guard Baron Davis washed up anyways and made his way to his locker, he began his thoughts with a sentiment that even he couldn't have believed was genuine.
"We're playing hard," he said with an emotionless tone after letting leading Rookie of the Year candidate Tyreke Evans finish with 28 points, seven assists and six rebounds. "That's all you can do at this point."
And watch the clock, of course.
In what was the Clippers' final road game and fourth-to-last game overall in yet another season gone sour, they allowed 63 first-half points to a team that averaged 88.4 over its last eight games and astounded not only fans but their coach with their disinterested ways.
"(Their performance) was dismal," interim coach Kim Hughes said afterward. "It was unacceptable, and (we're) cheating ourselves and our teammates by playing like that."
All while rewarding Kings coach Paul Westphal, who finally earned his 25th win after a season-high eight straight losses and thus earned the first of many incentives on his two-year contract. Westphal's salary this season started at a league-low $1.5 million, but a source with knowledge of the agreement told FanHouse he can earn upward of $2 million if he reaches just a few incentives such as these. The exact bonus of this first incentive is not known.
Meanwhile, the Clippers continued not only to lose but to lose their way. They let Hughes offer diatribes and diagrams to his heart's content during timeouts, even if only half of the team would half-listen. Even the rare sign of life was short-lived, when Chris Kaman's three-point play during a third-quarter push pulled the Clippers within six points with 34 seconds left in the period.
Clippers assistant coach John Lucas leapt from the bench and tamely taunted the crowd, shouting "How do you like that?" with a grin while kicking his leg out in Reggie Miller fashion. But Evans quickly followed with a drive and yet another uncontested layup, and Lucas found himself in his chair slumping yet again.
Much like his team, in other words.
By the time the final minutes arrived and a dominant Kings fourth quarter pushed their lead as large as 24 late, veteran forward and new Clipper Drew Gooden was pleading with official Bennett Salvatore to let him and his teammates clock out.
"No fouls Benny," he said from his seat. "Benny, can I get out of here?"
He's not the only one who felt that way.
Gooden is one of nine pending free agents on this revamped and wrecked Clippers roster, with their February trades possibly boding well for the future but not so much for the present. Their 17-18 start seems like a different season altogether by now, with the beginning of their downturn coinciding with news that injured rookie Blake Griffin would have season-ending knee surgery. After going just 19-63 last season, the Clippers are now 27-52.
The in-house optimism is now tied to the hypothetical hope: salary cap room gained via the trades could net a top-tier free agent (none bigger than the pipe dream of LeBron James) or two decent ones this summer when Griffin returns, as well as the unknown high draft pick on its way thanks to the late-season slide.
Coupled with the early February force-out of Mike Dunleavy as coach and his more transparent firing as the team's general manager on March 9, confusion reigns in a locker room in which the short-term mentality and apathy were so apparent.
"It's dysfunctional right now," said reserve center Brian Skinner, a Clippers first-round draft pick (22nd overall) in 1998 who played his first three seasons with the club. "We're trying to ride it out, finish these last three games. Guys are going to go their ways. The organization is going to go its way. Guys are going to find teams, the organization is going to find new players."
Asked if the five players scheduled to remain (Davis, Griffin, Kaman, guard Eric Gordon, and forward DeAndre Jordan) should have confidence that owner Donald Sterling is capable of turning his woebegone franchise around, Skinner said, "That's a touchy subject. I've been here in (19)98, '99, 2000, and it's the same thing. It's hard to say. It's different players, but I don't know if the mentality is any different than what it was when I was here. We've got all the possibilities, all the potential in the world, and we just don't get it done. And that's been consistent."
Davis -- who has three seasons remaining on his five-year, $65 million deal - was his mediocre self against the Kings. He looked nothing like the dynamic Golden State point guard who averaged 21.8 points, 7.6 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game in his final season with the Warriors (2007-08), finishing with 11 points, 10 assists and three turnovers.
It's been that way since Davis arrived, as he averaged 14.9 points, 7.7 assists, and 3.7 rebounds in 65 games last season and entered play averaging 15.2 points, eight assists, and 3.6 rebounds in 73 games in this, his 11th campaign.
Yet Davis said nothing is more to blame for the latest Clippers demise than Dunleavy's exodus. His forced resignation as coach came just after the Clippers lost six of eight games on their season-long road trip, and the Clippers have lost 34 of their last 44 games since that point.
"I think that was just the nail in the coffin," Davis said. "It was really a shock to everybody. I didn't see it coming -- not at that time. We weren't really out of (the playoff race), but we needed to make some type of push. (Dunleavy) resigned, Kim (Hughes) took over, and the next two days people started getting traded."
Most notably among the moves, Marcus Camby was sent to Portland in a deal that left a huge void for the Clippers down low and brought point guard Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw and cash back in return.
"The whole team got busted up," Davis continued. "And when you've got a team like this with a bunch of free agents, it's hard to find your place. It's tough for everybody."
The goal, of course, is to ease these burdens over the summer. Hughes is not expected to be back as head coach, and SI.com's Frank Hughes reported that Charlotte coach Larry Brown already inquired about the seemingly-slim possibility of taking over. ESPN.com's Marc Stein added the unemployed Byron Scott, Dallas assistant Dwane Casey and ESPN TV's Mark Jackson as early candidates for the coaching position, although a source close to Scott told Fanhouse that the notion of the former New Jersey and New Orleans coach joining the Clippers would be highly unlikely due to his lack of interest.
As for the 30-year-old Davis, he'll have to break a sweat on and off the floor this offseason. Three summers after his plan to join Elton Brand in Los Angeles fell through when the forward signed with Philadelphia, he'll be hoping he can convince the best help on the free agent market to come his way.
"I'll be trying to do my best (to recruit free agents)," said Davis, who may have washed up after the loss to the Kings but insists he's not washed up. "My career is at stake, and I know that there's a lot more we can do. We've just got to get the right camaraderie, with guys who know they're going to be here. I think the commitment has to be here, from players and the coaching staff, from top to bottom. But I definitely have confidence going forward that we're going to be alright."