Originally published in SLAM 46

The 6th Man: Before this off-season, I had the perfect idea how to improve the Clippers. It was a three-step plan—a very simple one—that involved the following:

1) Make Donald Sterling sell the team.
2) Move them away from L.A.
3) Change the name, the uniform, and anything else that would remind people the Clippers ever existed.

Easy enough. But then something happened that made me reconsider. Look carefully at the photo above. Look very carefully. What do you see? Close friends? Yes. Future All-Stars? Perhaps. Dennis and Carmen at their wedding? Maybe you need new glasses. What you should see is a pair of Los Angeles Clippers—laughing.

Crazy, right? It’s like seeing Patrick Ewing signing an autograph on a (shudder) game day, or seeing a WNBA box score with “50” under “field goal percentage.” It’s unexpected, irrational, and pretty much completely impossible.

But it’s also pretty darn cool. Seeing young guys in those classic Clipper unis smiling at something that’s not a trade announcement makes you think anything can happen. Happy Clippers—what’s next, Jerry Krause on the Subway diet? J.R. Rider on time? Maybe this is the year things change.

Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson, the two guys you see here, sure believe it. Lamar Odom believes it. Keyon Dooling believes it. Even Michael Olowokandi, entering the third year of his five-year sentence, is on board. And that’s a start. With the departures of free agents Derek Anderson and Mo Taylor, the Clippers are loaded with fresh young talent who actually want to be there. Really. And in Miles and Richardson (and Maggette), you have friends from Illinois who are ecstatic to have the chance to play together and drag the Clips out of their basement home.

No one’s saying it’s gonna be easy—the Paper Clips have been in the tank so long they’ve grown gills, and youth doesn’t win in the NBA without help. Until skinflint owner Sterling sees fit to sell the team to someone willing to spend—or at least open his dusty wallet to pay some battle-tested veterans—the Clips are probably still a couple years away from the playoffs. The Team That Elgin Built 2000 will have a tough time returning to the glory days of the Mark Jackson era. But at least they’ll have fun on the way.

Peace,

Russ Bengtson

P.S. By the time you read this, senior editor Ben Osborne will have pulled stakes and headed to Puerto Rico for a couple months to figure out if there’s life beyond the SLAMDome. E-mail him at bosborne@harris-pub.com and tell him how big a mistake he made. Seriously Ben, you’ve been a huge part of this, and you’ll always have a place here if you want it. Buena suerte.

Issue 46 TMac