We took some time this week to do an interview exchange with Steve from SBN sister-site ClipsNation. Enjoy!
Blazersedge: The Clippers amassed a ton of talent but have been snake-bit with injuries. Will this team ever be whole and if so, do you see this current incarnation competing in the West? At what point is it time to start over?
I think this team can compete for a playoff spot in the West if they play well. If Livingston can fulfill some of his promise, the prospects get better (see below). But the West is monstrously good, as you well know. I think Phoenix and Dallas just did a huge favor for the Blazers and Clippers of the conference by hastening their own demise with trades for some superstars of the 90s, but the Lakers and Jazz and Hornets (and maybe even the Blazers) all seem to be in line ahead of the Clippers. So competing for a Western Conference title? That's another story. A lot of things would have to go right.
It's an interesting question. Do you blow up a team that can have a winning season, that can make the playoffs but probably can't get out of the first round? After all, only one team actually wins the title each year. Are the other 29 teams failures? I'm not ready to start over. Maybe it's because the Clippers have tasted so little success, but I think I'd be content to be semi-competitive with this group. And who knows, the Brand-Kaman duo could be the best pair of bigs since Parrish and McHale. We have to at least see Brand on the court with new Kaman for a season. If those two are healthy and the team makes another trip to the lottery next season, then it may be time to get out the dynamite. But not yet.
Blazersedge: What's the latest on Shaun Livingston? How much does he factor into your future plans?
Livingston returned to practice for non-contact drills last week, a couple of days after Brand. He has another meeting with his surgeon the first week in March, so we'll know more then . But on the whole, the news has been very, very positive. Every indication at this point is that he will make a full recovery. The big difference here is that, while thousands of athletes have suffered a ruptured Achilles, Livingston's injury (three torn ligaments, not too mention a dislocation and meniscus damage) is pretty unusual, not to mention more severe. So I expect the Clippers to go more slowly with Livingston than with Brand, even though they are ostensibly at the same point right now.
If you believe the 'full recovery' talk, then I think Shaun Livingston is the starting point guard next season. Although he has never really fulfilled the promise he exhibits, he was already a very good player before his injury. He's a terrific defender and a great passer. I could see him having a long NBA career as a steady, defense-oriented point guard. And he may yet develop the jump shot and more importantly the aggressiveness to be an offensive force as well. He's still only 22, and he's had a lot of time to work on his J lately. He'll be a restricted free agent this summer and I expect him to be a Clipper next year.
Perhaps the bigger question than his recovery from this injury is the question of future injuries. In four NBA seasons he's played 145 out of 300 possible games so far, and never more than 61 in a season. The way he's built, it's possible that he'll just never be able to avoid getting hurt.
Blazersedge: Al Thornton was impressive in Summer League and appears to be having a nice rookie season. Are you impressed? Could he be starting (or even star) material someday? What kind of growth do you want to see from him?
He needs to work on his rebounding. He needs to work on his defensive rotations. And most importantly, he needs to work on sharing the ball. He's been incredibly good in isolations this season, especially for a rookie. But he tends to get pretty focused on the rim, and forces some bad shots. He's also starting to see some double teams, and even then he tends to try to get the shot up. When he learns some patience and to better utilize his teammates, he's going to be very, very good.
Blazersedge: The Clips have had an on-again, off-again relationship with Corey Maggette. This year it appears to be on again. His contract is coming up. How long will he be a Clipper?
Corey is having his best season as a pro. As I write this, he's averaging 22 per game which is 13th in the league, and given that he's averaging over 24 in 2008, he seems to be headed into the top 10. And of course he does it on fewer shot attempts than almost anyone else, since he gets to the free throw line so frequently. He will definitely opt out of the final year of his contract this summer, and you would think there would be teams lined up to pay a guy scoring 22 points per game on 14 shots.
But when you get specific about the teams that figure to have enough cap room this summer to pay him what he's looking for, it's not so clear. I don't see teams like Memphis, Philadelphia or Charlotte making him a big offer, given their current rosters. Nor would Corey necessarily want to play for those teams. The entire situation is complicated by the fact that coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. (you may remember him) has never been a fan, and in fact has tried to trade Corey on at least three occasions. Meanwhile, owner Donald T. Sterling loves Maggette, and wants him to be a Clipper for life. Some of this was at the center of the ugly row between the owner and the coach last month.
So like I said, I don't know what is going to happen with Corey. I think a lot of people assume he'll be gone next season (and with Thornton waiting to step in, the Clippers could certainly let it happen), but I'm not convinced. I don't want to overpay for him, but a front line of Kaman, Brand and Maggette with Thornton coming off the bench could be a lot of fun to watch.
Blazersedge: Will there be ANY rebounds on Wednesday night or are both teams just going to let the ball fall to the court and settle there until a jump ball is called?
Thanks to Steve for chatting with us. You can catch the flip side of the interview this morning over at ClipsNation.