Q Ball

by September 26, 2009

Four times in two months. It could be the number of games the Mets have won. But let’s be real; four is the number of times Quentin Richardson has been dealt this off-season. He’s traveled from NY to Memphis to L.A. to Minny and finally to South Beach. Through his 10-years in the L, Q’s game has evolved from that of a young scorer to being a savvy vet who tries to help his team any way possible. The last few years, on a slew of horrible Knicks teams, Q was the locker room vet whose voice was heard. Unfortunately, he’s been hampered by chronic injury problems, which has labeled the 29-year-old too “fragile” for most GM’s. Along with his contract, as Tim David Harvey breaks down, Q-Rich is racking up airline miles by the bunches. Four teams in two months? That will mess with any player’s psyche. But for a man from Chi-town, where toughness and perseverance are in abundance, look for Q to bring the same tenacity night in and night out for the Miami Heat, as he’s always done.—Matt Lawyue

by Russ Bengtson

Looking back, maybe it all just happened too fast. The buzz on the Los Angeles Clippers rose, peaked and fell off before the team itself had a chance to catch up. That SLAM 57 cover back in early ’02 might’ve been the high-water mark, with Lamar Odom, Elton Brand and Darius Miles swapping jerseys and looking like Frontcourt 3000. The theme was doing it together, and we all know how that turned out: No playoffs since 1997, and annual postseason trips to Secaucus ever since. And now there are a lot of size-54-and-up, red-white-and-blue D.Miles and LO jerseys collecting dust in closets and selling for small change on eBay.

Meanwhile, Quentin Richardson has been through it all, living life since 2000 in Clipper years (just ask Ron Harper about that). Still breaks out the signature double headtap even with Darius, his former running mate, two teams gone. We overlooked him back in ’02—had to give him the double In Your Face love along with Chi brother Corey Maggette a few issues later to make up for it—but we’ve paid close attention ever since. And while the Clips are still struggling to crack the top eight, Q (along with Maggette) has finally broken through.

“Q is one of those guys, he kinda reminds me of myself,” Maggette says. “We wasn’t playing so much, and we had so much determination—he has so much determination—to be the best and go out there and win. He’s the type of guy, when he smells fear, he’s gonna punish you.”

Richardson agrees with his teammate’s assessment. “I just think that I’m getting better and better and more consistent the more opportunities I get. If you get more playing time and more chances and more leeway to make mistakes and continue to play through them, I think that’s when players get better. Coach [Mike Dunleavy] has definitely given me the ability to do that. My biggest thing, I feel like every year I’ve gotten better, and that’s the most important thing.”

Defenders definitely recQuentin Richardson, 2003. ognize. “He’s tough because he can shoot,” says defensive POY Ron Artest. “You’re guarding a strong guy who can shoot. And you gotta get up on him. And his strength can carry him to the basket.” But then again, you don’t need to D him up to notice that. All you really need to do is watch.

In a League full of unique talents, Richardson still stands out. Listed at 6-5, but probably standing closer to 6-4, the 24-year-old displays a downright frightening arsenal. He wasn’t known much for his shooting while in high school or at DePaul, but he’s since developed a dangerous three-point shot (35 percent last season, a fraction better than both Michael Redd and Kerry Kittles). And he has done so without losing any of his strength or ability to finish above the rim. For anyone curious about where those startling hops came from, check his legs. Where most folks have calves, he has cows, accented by the knee-high socks and the exQlusive Jordans that even Fab can’t cop. At 230-plus, he’s a power guard, a flying brick—a true Baby Barkley, only with range and better fashion sense. In fact, the only guy playing right now who compares to Q might be Baron Davis. Baron is shorter, obviously, and a better passer, but he has that same linebacker build, that same inside-out ability that lets him beat you with the three or with a monster dunk. Baron himself agrees: “He really uses his size well, and he knows how to use his body—and he does remind me of a big two-guard version of me.”

“At the guard position he’s causing a lot of problems for guys around the League,” says Penny Hardaway, “because if you put a big guy on him, he’s gonna go around him, and if you put a small guy on him, he’s gonna post. So you have to pick your poison with him.”

You think of your traditional three-point shooters, you think of guys like Allan Houston, Peja Stojakovic, Ray Allen. Guys who can take it to the cup, but generally don’t unless there’s a clear path or a definite mismatch. Not Q. He’s one of the only players you’ll see who will post up taller players on purpose because he knows he can beat them with his hops, strength and quickness. “It’s all about you being strong enough and being able to create, make moves down there,” Q says of posting up. “That’s all it is.

“It depends on who’s guarding me,” he adds. “I like to be able to go whichever way I want to go. If it’s a smaller guy guarding me, just post up. But sometimes it really don’t matter.”

He isn’t afraid to take it inside against anybody, really, because he just gets up so damn fast. Even giving up a foot, 10 inches, he knows that he can get the shot off, and if necessary, rebound his own miss and put it back up. “He’s one of the quickest jumpers in the League, besides Shawn Marion,” says Maggette. “And he has a knack to get rebounds—he’s one of the best shooting guard rebounders in the League.”

If you want to see where all that comes from, you don’t need to go to Staples Center. Understand, Quentin is 100 percent pure, uncut Chicago. That’s where the strength comes from, the work ethic, the relentlessness. It was honed at Whitney Young HS, at DePaul, and at home, where his father, Lee, never let him rest on his accomplishments. The reason he’s on the verge of becoming a superstar is because he was never treated like one. Home made him. And that’s why he returns every summer to work on his game at Hoops the Gym with Tim Grover, who gained renown as Michael Jordan’s trainer.

“I started going to him going into my freshman year at college,” Q says of Grover. “He was working with a lot of pros when I started—that was my first time going against pro competition. And I’ve been tight with him ever since.”

And the work hasn’t stopped. “This past summer I probably keyed in a little more on trying to be able to shoot the in-between shot, to pull up off the dribble,” he says. “But for the most part, I tried to work on everything. Because I feel like I can get better at everything.”

Besides the individual workouts and the weights—on Grover’s advice, Q has switched to lighter weights and more reps—there are, of course, the legendary runs. The Windy City has long been turning out big-time ballers, and come summer, they’re all in town. Who plays?

Quentin Richardson, 2003. “Everybody,” Q confirms. “Toine Walker, Penny’s been back and forth, Stackhouse, all the Chicago guys—Eddy Curry, Jamal Crawford, Corey, Elton. Paul Pierce came through, Rod Strickland, Tim Hardaway came through. Finley. All good competition.”

Maggette doesn’t hesitate to define the Chicago style: “Hardnosed. We call each other the gorillas of Chi-Town. If you ain’t no gorilla, don’t come to Chicago.” Because? “The games are intense, man. You will get embarrassed. Trash-talking, everything you can name.”

And the Chicago connection runs even deeper in Clipperland. Along with Maggette and Q, you’ve got Bobby Simmons, another Chicago native who ran with Q at DePaul, and Elton Brand, who teamed with Maggette at Duke and was Rookie of the Year with the Bulls. Elton has been an All-Star, and will be again. But it’s Maggette and Q who have been playing each other—and pushing each other—since forever.

“The first time I played against him was sixth grade,” Maggette says. “He was a big guy, kinda chubby, but he continued to work on his game and he improved so much. We didn’t start to play with each other until I was in eighth. We went to the AAU Nationals, we won that year. Then we were playing against each other most of the whole time after that.”

This summer, Quentin is facing what are, for a Clipper, the two finest words in the English language: free agency. There are plenty of teams that could use some help at the 2/3. Think the Knicks would mind seeing him line up with Marbury? The Mavericks could certainly use his tenacity on the glass. Assuming Kobe Bryant is no longer in purple and gold, he might only have to move to the locker room down the hall. Then there’s his hometown Bulls, who never seem to have anything quite settled. But Richardson seems committed to staying a Clipper, for whom he’s gone from bench player to sixth man to starter. Then again, he’s seen enough teammates come and go to realize that just wanting to stay doesn’t necessarily mean he will. While notoriously tightfisted owner Donald Sterling loosened up enough last season to re-sign Brand and Maggette, he let Odom, Michael Olowokandi and Andre Miller all walk. This cleared the way for Q to start, but it, along with the Miles-for-Miller trade in the summer of ’02, showed him that this is definitely a business first.

“My first choice is definitely to stay with the Clippers,” he says, “but as we all know that’s not always up to me, or my decision to make, so we’ll definitely just have to wait and see what happens.”

Quentin Richardson, 2003. Q was the 18th pick in the 2000 Draft, selected behind such names as Jerome Moiso, Mateen Cleaves and Jason Collier, not to mention fellow Clipper pick Darius Miles (3rd) and soon-to-be Clipper Keyon Dooling (10th). He wound up starting in the 2001 Rookie-Sophomore game in DC, with his boy D.Miles coming off the bench. Results? Twenty points and a game-high 14 boards in 23 minutes, much of his damage coming in the first half, and above the rim. Still, those first few years, minutes were hard to come by, stuck as he was behind Odom, Maggette and Eric Piatkowski. After starting 28 games as a rookie, he came off the bench for the entire ’01-02 season, and started only 13 times in ’02-03.

This season, that all changed. He only played in 65 games in ’03-04, due to various injuries, but he started 64 of them. Given serious minutes for the first time (36 per game), he averaged career bests in points (17.2), rebounds (6.4) and assists (2.1). He racked up career highs galore, a new one every other month. He dropped 44 points on Denver on New Year’s Eve, hit 8 of 11 treys against Boston in early February, dished out 9 assists against the Suns in mid-April. So many flashes you could have mistaken him for a strobe light.

Starting brings a whole new set of challenges, but those who have followed the same path see Q moving in the right direction. “Absolutely—getting some time, and understanding—it’s different when you’re coming off the bench, it’s not that much pressure,” says Baron Davis. “It’s not that much to do. You know you gotta come in and score, you have a role. Now he’s starting to step into that star category.”

So next year he’d like to stay, and step things up another notch. Makes sense. Show everyone all that Clipper love wasn’t misplaced, just early. Show everyone the Clips are still young, exciting, and still on their way up. “Yeah, I still feel that way,” Q says. “We still get our following. Naturally it’ll get better and better if we continue to win and continue to sign guys and show the fans that we’re serious about it. I think it’ll become more of a consistent thing. But right now we play in a city where [the Lakers] won three championships in a row, and they’ve got a lot of championships before that, so they deserve the respect they get.”

So will he. Any number of current and former All-Stars—from Ray Allen to Paul Pierce—are willing to co-sign that one day soon, he’ll be among them. “Oh, he’s definitely gonna be an All-Star,” says Penny. “I don’t know when, but they’re gonna recognize. They’re losing right now, so it’s kinda tough on him right now, but he’s definitely gonna be an All-Star.”

Baron agrees: “If he continues to work his body, the way he’s improved year in and year out, the way he shoots, he’s a tremendous athlete and he’s starting to understand the game more and not play for other things.” Thing is, we’re guessing that he’s understood that for a while now. It’s just that he’s finally getting the chance to show it.