The Clippers' season hasn't been so hot, but that doesn't mean our man ClipperSteve hasn't been doing a great job over at Clips Nation. We mic'ed up our SBNation hoops brother for some insights on LA's other team that never gets much love from the national media.
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Golden State of Mind: 25 year old Clippers center Chris Kaman is having an outstanding season by the numbers (16 ppg, 13 rpg, and 3 blk). What explains this huge jump in production after last season's disappointment? Are these numbers legit or just garbage stats on a losing team? Has he reached his ceiling or do you project him to make any more leaps in this game over the course of the next few years?
ClipperSteve (Clips Nation): At first glance, 07-08 looks like the outlier in Chris Kaman's NBA career. But when I went back over his career, it turns out that his scoring and rebounding numbers this season are very much in line with the progression he was on in his first three seasons in the league. So if we're playing 'Sesame Street' 'One of these things is not like the other' it could be that his super-productive 07-08 is the anomaly, or it could be his dismal 06-07 that doesn't fit the pattern. It may just be wishful thinking on my part, but I believe we're currently seeing the real Chris Kaman.
Why he's had such a strong season, or more accurately, why he played so poorly last season, remains a mystery. There may be a medical explanation for it, though. Kaman was diagnosed with ADHD at a very early age. However, this summer it was discovered that he had been misdiagnosed all along. Dr. Tim Royer, who worked with him in the off-season, has determined that Kaman's brain was constantly in overdrive (what he calls "an anxious brain"), and by giving him a series of relaxation exercises, many of which utilized neural-feedback mechanisms that allowed him to monitor his brain waves, Kaman and Dr. Royer believe that they've made significant progress in alleviating some problems that had simply been unaddressed previously. Look, I'm no neurologist, but watching Chris in the post last season it did often seem that he was overwhelmed by his options. "Should I go left, should I go right, should I pass, should I spin, I'll just dribble 20 more times, ooops, that little guy stole the ball, dammit!" It's not an official stat, but I feel completely certain that Kaman easily led the league in blown bunnies last season from a lack of focus. This season, he's been much more focused and decisive when he gets the ball.
As for whether or not he's reached his full potential, I'd be greedy to want better than 3rd in the NBA in rebounding and 3rd in the NBA in blocked shots, right? Will his stats come to earth some when he's sharing a front court with Elton Brand? Sure, a little. But it seems reasonable to expect that most of Elton's rebounds are going to be coming from the other 8 guys on the floor, and not just Kaman. After all, the Clippers have been one of the best rebounding teams in the league throughout the Elton Brand era, but are one of the worst rebounding teams in the league this season. There are plenty of boards out there for two elite bigs. On offense I would hope that Kaman will be more efficient in fewer touches. With Brand out and the myriad other injuries the Clippers have suffered this season, Kaman has been the lone low post threat, surrounded by a bunch of non-shooters. Opposing defenses have been able to double team the guy with impunity all season. If however Brand and Kaman can develop any kind of rapport working a high-low post game, it should result in numerous easy scoring opportunities for each of them.
Golden State of Mind: It has been heavily rumored that Clippers swingman Corey Maggette will opt out of his contract this offseason. If he opts out do you see the Clippers retaining him? What kind of deal do you see him netting on the open market? Any specific teams you see him being a great fit on?
ClipperSteve (Clips Nation): Corey will opt out, that much is certain. He's making $7M this season and would make $7M again next season if he were to play under his current contract. The guy is currently averaging 22.4 points per game, his highest career average, and the third time in the last 6 seasons that he's averaged 20+. Quick, name another repeat 20 point per game scorer whose making less than $10M per on a non-rookie contract. You can't.
Another thing you can't name is very many players who have averaged 20 multiple times, yet never made an All Star team. (I came up with Zach Randolph and former Warrior Jason Richardson.) For some reason, Corey doesn't even get mentioned in the All Star discussion. The most amazing thing is that he's not some chucker averaging 20+ by taking 25 shots a game. He's a foul-drawing savant, and is continually among the league leaders in all the free throw categories - this season he's leading the league in free throws made per minute. So he's an efficient scorer, and yet he also manages to be a high scorer.
Still, I don't really see teams lining up to fight for his services this summer. There are a couple of reasons for this. Clearly Corey is looking for a pretty big pay day. The Clippers offered him a 3 year extension starting around $8.5M last summer. He turned that down, and is having his best season by far, so it's pretty obvious he's expecting a deal that starts at or above $10M. But, by my count, there are only about 4 teams (Philly, Memphis, Charlotte and Sacramento) that will have that much cap space this summer (that could change, especially depending on whether players like Gilbert Arenas and Shawn Marion opt out of their deals). I don't see any of the teams with space currently being particularly interested in Maggette (maybe Sacramento if Artest opts out). So that leaves him with a sign and trade, or staying with the Clippers, if he's going to get the pay day he's looking for.
The other problem for Corey is that he's at arguably the deepest position in the NBA. Not all NBA wings are created equal - and Corey's not LeBron James or Kobe Bryant or Tracy McGrady. But almost every team has a player in this general mold, and most teams seem pretty satisfied with their guy. Or rather, they're happy enough that they don't feel compelled to pay Corey Maggette $10M per. Teams get into bidding wars for decent point guards and centers. But if you play wing, and you're not a bona fide mega super star, the demand is lower because the supply is pretty good. (Keep an eye on what happens with Andre Iguodala this summer to test out my theory. I don't see him signing any offer sheets. Philadelphia may yet overpay to keep him as teams often do that, but I just don't see anyone offering him big money. Would Memphis, when they already have Rudy Gay? Charlotte with Gerald Wallace? You get the idea.)
So Corey could end up back with the Clippers next season (where he is still a pretty good fit). Or he could end up leaving via a sign and trade. I think he would be a good fit back in Orlando, or up in Oakland with you guys. But the sign and trade route is not easy to get done.
Golden State of Mind: Former All-NBA big man Elton Brand has an early termination option which could make him a free agent this offseason. Do you see him opting out after not playing this entire season so far? If he opts out how committed do you think the Clips will be to retaining him? Any specific teams you see Brand wanting to play for and being a good fit?
ClipperSteve (Clips Nation): I've said all along that I expect Elton Brand to be a Clipper next season. Within the last couple weeks, Elton has come out and said as much. Just as with Maggette, there really aren't a lot of options for EB this off-season - in fact, even fewer, since Elton should command significantly more money. I mean, I suppose it's a possibility that he would take the Mid Level Exception to play for an immediate title contender, but come on. Over the course of a 6 year deal (he just turned 29) that would amount to more than $60M he'd be leaving on the table. Why would he do that? Especially when he can be a loyal hero for staying with the Clippers, and still have a chance to play for a pretty good team (and, oh yeah, keep all that money).
So he'll definitely be with the Clippers next season. Whether he plays out this deal and becomes a free agent in 2009, or signs an extension, remains to be seen. The Clippers for their part are eager to keep him regardless. They will offer him a maximum extension this summer. They will offer him a maximum contract if he opts out. The Clippers feel like they have that rarest of NBA commodities - the player that is worth a maximum contract on the court, and is an exemplary citizen off the court. And don't forget that EB has not yet played alongside this version of Chris Kaman. Money and loyalty aside, there's no question in my mind that Elton Brand thinks he and Kaman can be the best low post duo the NBA has seen since Tim Duncan and David Robinson, and who could argue? He WANTS to play for the Clippers next season. (And later this season, for that matter.)
Not that I'm advocating this, but if Elton is smart he'll play out this contract and test free agency in 2009. There will be some interesting teams with cap space then (like a couple teams in the Pacific Northwest with 19 year olds). If the Clippers get their act together and return to contention in the Western Conference (no small task, obviously), then he can re-sign with the Clippers, no questions asked. But if the team continues to struggle (or more likely, if the front office continues to be a train wreck), he can look for greener pastures. But that's for 2009 at the earliest. You'll hear rumors about Miami wanting him (Riley gave him an offer sheet 5 years ago), but it ain't happening. Not yet.
Golden State of Mind: Clipper rookie Al Thornton has come on as of late and put up 17.4 ppg and 6.3 rpg in February and 14.3 ppg and 4.7 rpg so far in March. How good of a player do the Clips have in Thornton? Is he someone the Clips can build around or just a solid role player? Would you take him over the Warriors #8 pick (via trade) Brandan Wright?
ClipperSteve (Clips Nation): The good news with Al Thornton is that he's 24. Of course, there are those who would say that the bad news is that he's 24. Thornton hasn't come close to experiencing the rookie wall. He's just gotten stronger as the season has gone on. He's been the Clippers second best scorer (after Maggette) since January 1. He's also improved his shooting percentage and his rebounding as the season has worn on. That's just not been the case for the 19 year olds. Durant has gotten steadily worse (until March that is, so he may finally be figuring it out.) Yi hit the wall hard. Or there are the 19 year olds who just haven't gotten the minutes, like Brandan Wright and Julian Wright. Watching Al, and realizing that I'm biased, it's pretty clear that he's a special offensive talent. The younger players may have more potential, but he's miles ahead of most of them right now. If Brandan Wright develops the set of offensive weapons that Al Thornton has right now, you're going to be a very happy group of fans up there. And it's not just me that's saying this stuff. Here's what David Thorpe said about Al in his latest edition of ESPN's Rookie Watch:
I concur that Al has the full package of moves, and I would say that he appears to be the second best offensive player from this draft after Durant. Not bad picking at number 14 (that's a first for the Clippers - drafting well!) So he's more than just a piece. He's got the potential to be a go to scorer in this league - in fact, the Clippers have ridden him to several wins since January, going to him in the fourth quarter repeatedly. He's a great fit for the Clippers in that sense. Maggette's effectiveness is diminished in late game situations when refs put their whistles away - Brand is not an unstoppable scorer, and can be neutralized with low post double teams. I can see Thornton being the guy the Clippers give the ball to in late game situations for years to come. So I'm thrilled with Thornton, and there are very few rookies in this draft I'd rather have. Maybe it's the bitter taste left over from our last two teenage draft picks (Shaun Livingston and Yaroslav Korolev), but I'm thrilled with here and now production over magical distant potential.
The entire GSoM Crew would like to thank ClipperSteve for his insights on Warrior fans' favorite LA team. Definitely head on over to Clips Nation and tell those eccentric Clippers fans to keep their heads up!
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