The Clippers 2005-06: Elton Brand, Cassell and the hope of the worst team in history

From 1981 to 2014, Donald Sterling was the ill-fated owner of some Clippers who had, in 2005-06, their only historic opportunity.

Before Doc Rivers, Steve Ballmer and, of course, Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers were, almost unanimously, the worst team in history. By tradition and staff, but also by records. And if we look at the general structure, also the worst franchise, moving to the track the drift that its owner from 1981 to 2014, Donald Sterling, had carried in the offices. Not only the bad decisions were the daily bread, but also the quality of its sports facilities, its training possibilities and the scandals that the owner starred in and that did not help a losing dynamic sportingly and executive. The last years of Sterling, when the quality of the environment improved and the project gained solidity, were overshadowed by racist comments that caused an earthquake that Adam Silver, who had only been in office two months, resolved with his now well-known magnetic speech and a relentless effectiveness and poise in the public eye, where battles that decide wars are won and lost, which allowed him to put the NBA in his pocket and that people began to forget the beloved David Stern to focus on an imposing figure who, to be resolved, has resolved even an impossible season put in check by the coronavirus. The vexatious words of the grim Sterling made him the most hated person in the United States and ended his stay in the NBA, including sale to Steve Ballmer, the current patriarch, who took over the Clippers after leaving Microsoft after in 2012 was listed at the top of the five worst executives in the world.

The NBA forced Sterling to sell against his will after such comments were leaked through a video, something that was the icing on the cake to his disastrous management and brought more promising times to the Clippers ... although with the same result as in last. One that dates from 1970, when they were baptized with the name of Buffalo Braves, with which they stayed eight seasons; in the first three they had 22, 22 and 21 victories, a dynamic that changed with Jack Ramsay as coach and Bob McAdoo as franchise player. The association had three consecutive playoff appearances, the last in 1976. And from there, until 2006, they only reached the playoffs for the title three more times. Neither the move to San Diego (1978-1984) nor to Los Angeles, where they now reside, changed the fortunes of a team that, in 50 years, has been in the playoffs 15 times, but eight of them have arrived in the last nine years, and only seven in the first 41. In addition, the entity has added 32 seasons below 40 victories, 20 without reaching 30 and eight with less than 20. In the 33 years of Sterling's mandate, the Clippers were in the laughingstock of the NBA, entering the playoffs only seven times and adding some of the worst records in NBA history: 17-65 four times (1981-82, 1987-88, 1994-95 and 1997- 98), 15-67 in 1999-00, 12-70 in 1986-87 (the third worst in history, with 14.6% of victories), or 9-41 in 1998-99, the year lockout.

Nor did the signing of Elgin Baylor as President of Operations in 1986 paid off. In his first season on the board, the team recorded that disastrous 12-70 which was an embarrassment that had a historical, negative impact on the spectators. Only 7,711 on average went to the LA Sports Arena, something objectively logical if we see that of the first 40 games, the Clippers only won five. They were years in which the force went through the mouth (many times, with its owner at the head) to a franchise that never showed it on the track and always tried to sell a distorted reality within a city in which they did not stop being the bad brother of the Lakers. In fact, the move from San Diego to Los Angeles only increased the existing gap between the two entities, in the same way that the wandering Clippers were moving further and further away from the virtuosity and glamor of an NBA dragged by paraphernalia and paraphernalia. Forum entertainment and the duels against the Celtics. Facing the Clippers in the regular season was a sure victory, and the 15,000 spectators who gathered in their first duel with the Lakers (victory for the latter) gradually declined despite the fact that they defined themselves as "the people's team" and sold the Tickets at prices that oscillated between 4 and 15 dollars, while their city companions did it for more than 27. "I would say that in the last 20 years we have done a few more things than they do so that the town team is us "Showtime coach Pat Riley would jokingly say at the time.

This has been almost without exception (now we will go to that almost) the story of a bad franchise, very bad, almost the worst in history, and that has always been at the tail of a world that has been too big and they felt ridiculously small. Arriving in Los Angeles in the Lakers' greatest decade (Magic, Kareem, Worthy ...) never suited them, and the titles that the older brother won were accompanied by spectacular profits from the marketing with which they treated the women. most talented and charismatic stars in the League. That began to change when Chris Paul and Blake Griffin arrived, back in 2011, when they began to look the Lakers in the eye and escape a lifetime of potholes and excesses that have left them without a faithful or consistent home crowd (they begin to emerge now), a celebrity that chose the Staples before when the gold shines in it (with few exceptions like Billy Cristal and Floyd Mayweather) and that was limited to watching the years go by while they lowered the price of tickets to be able to attract the stands emptiest of the NBA, an audience that, from time to time, ignored the high prices of the Lakers to be able to attend the visit of the rival stars when they traveled to Los Angeles to play against the Clippers. Less is nothing. And if the Sterling franchise did not represent that nothing at the time, it was practically indistinguishable.

Without raising his head

Baylor's mismanagement, who neither chose well in the draft, nor could make important moves by having no one to trade, nor attracting free agents who shunned a place with bad press and worse reality, resulted in four loners years in the playoffs. Four out of 24, another statistic for the annals of absolute negativity. Two with nomad Larry Brown, who went through eight franchises (if we include the ABA) before winning an eternally postponed ring with the Pistons in 2004 (then coaching two more, Knicks and Bobcats). With him, the Clippers reached the playoffs in 1992 (when he coached only the last 35 games, with a 23-12 record) and 1993, with people like Danny Magging or Mark Jackson on the team. The other was with Bill Fitch, the man who made Larry Bird champion in 1981 and who then traveled through the Twin Towers Rockets (Olajuwon and Sampson) to finish his career in the worst possible way, with a 17-65 with the Clippers, another of the fantastic years of a franchise that last season reached the playoffs for the third time in the Sterling-Baylor era with just 36 wins. It sold cheap and they bought the ticket, although they received a categorical sweep (3-0 from the Jazz) after forcing Game 5 in the two series with Larry Brown.

That was what the franchise gave of itself until 2005-06. Before, in 1999, Lamar Odom came to the team via draft in a year to forget: 15-67, with the firing of a Chris Ford who had added 20 victories in 90 games in Los Angeles (year and a half) and finished with an ignominious 4 -33 from Jim Todd, who never wore an NBA team again. Alvin Gentry arrived, with whom they achieved 31 and 39 victories the next two seasons, with future playoff omens but without any solid foundation in construction. And with more structural nonsense that affected even training conditions. "There was no room to shower," Odom later explained of the Southwest College facilities. Sterling's stinginess was well known, and his notoriety, never for positive things, was diametrically opposed to the care he provided for his employees. "When the temperature of the sports hall rose, we would leave the door open with the help of a brick," Lamar continued, saying that the facilities at the University of Rhode Island, where it was trained, were better. With this and nothing, which was what they really had, Gentry ended up making water despite its promising first two seasons and ended up being fired.The Year of Hope

The Clippers had to wait until 2006 to return to the playoffs. Earlier, Mike Dunleavy had made his appearance in the franchise after Gentry's firing and Dennis Johnson's brief tenure, assuming managerial control in addition to the purely sports, a practice that developed to the maximum time afterwards and that never had neither success nor continuity (Stan Van Gundy in Pistons, Tom Thibodeau in Wolves ...). At that time, Dunleavy's power was not as great as it would end up being for other coaches in the future, but it was enough to retain Elton Brand, who arrived in 2001 from Chicago, and let Odom go, to whom he He offered as a free agent 24 million in three seasons, a smaller offer than the one made by the Heat (63 for five), where he ended up landing and being sponsored by a Riley who traded him for Shaq to return to Los Angeles ... although the Lakers, of course. On the Clippers, Brand was coming off averaging 18.2 + 11.6 and 18.5 + 11.3. Brand was a scoring center, who easily reached the double-double and moved well in the post and although he was never a great defender or dominated the zone like other centers of the time, he managed to produce with ease and his regularity. it was amazing. He improved his scoring numbers with Dunleavy, a better coach than he cared to prove himself, who had led the Lakers post Riley and Kareem to the 1991 Finals (the last of the Magic) and led the Blazers to the Finals of the West two years in a row, including that historic 16-point comeback in the last quarter of that seventh game in 2000, against Shaq and Kobe's Lakers and with a squad that included Pippen, Rasheed, Sabonis ... 444 444

Dunleavy had a bad press and exuded too much inside-door arrogance, but he was a scholar who considered himself misunderstood, a man who had known how to get the most out of the Magic Lakers, but who failed to fully squeeze those Blazers that they were, in the words of Phil Jackson, "the best equipment money can buy". With the Clippers, once Brand was maintained, he began to build from the bottom and the coach achieved 28 and 37 victories in his first two seasons, the latter being ahead of the Lakers in free fall and after Kobe threatened to sign for his brother bad in full tantrum with Shaq and Phil Jackson. And in conversations that the regulation prevented (out of the market) and, it must be said, that Dunleavy did not let them get very far. Without Kobe but with other movements, he formed a cool team with which he slipped into second place in the Pacific Division, after the Suns and in front of some Lakers who, again, were behind. There were 47 victories (45 of those in purple and gold), the best record in the history of the franchise since in 1974-75, Jack Ramsay led the Buffalo Braves at 49. Quite a feat in a year in which to another franchise in Los Angeles, and another in the worst sense of the word, he began to see with some surprise that he always had the small locker room at Staples, a track he shared with the Lakers since his inauguration in 1999-00, or that the pavilion opened with purple seats (by the Lakers and Kings, of the NHL) something that changed right at the beginning of that season.

Elton Brand averaged 24.7 points (career high), 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, in addition to being included in the NBA's Second Best Quintet and winning the Most Sporty Player award. In addition, the Clippers had up to six players averaging double digits in scoring, and names known to the fan who had great moments in a very small franchise and with a group connection never seen in that team: Corey Maggette, Chris Kaman, Cuttino Mobley, Vladimir Radmanovic, Shaun Livingston ... For having, they had up to eight Vin Baker games, four All Star games in the 90s, three with the Bucks and one with the Sonics. And to Sam Cassell, of course, that dimensionless base that in addition to an undeniable talent (17.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists), seems almost a charm, a being that improves every team he passes through. From being champion with the Tomjanovich and Olajuwon Rockets in 1994 and 1995 ("never underestimate the heart of a champion") to contesting the Eastern finals in 2001 with the best Bucks since Jabbar and Oscar Robertson (with George Karl, Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson). He also passed, in 2003-04, through the best Wolves in history, with whom he was All Star and also played in the Conference finals, this time in the West. And now he went through the best Clippers ever (ignoring the Braves) to end his career by winning another ring, in the Celtics in 2007-08. I said, a hero.

With Cassell's points, Magette's good work, the power of the quartermaster and the best Brand of his career, the Clippers slipped into sixth position in the West, three places behind the Nuggets of George Karl and Carmelo Anthony but with first-round field advantage, having a better record. During the regular season, the Angelenos achieved their defensive rating from their time in Buffalo, were second in the League in rebounds (tied with Miami) and first in blocks. They played the playoffs for the first time since 1997, achieving a victory in the opening game, the first in the final phase since 1993. And they beat the Nuggets 4-1, with a synchronicity and a collective work that filled the Staples with a red color nothing. usual, with a support for the Clippers rarely seen and that not even the fans themselves believed. Denver, which had averaged 100 points per game in the regular season, fell below 90 in any of the five games. And Carmelo, who had averaged 26.5 points during the course, stayed at 21 with 33% shooting. Los Angeles vibrated and, this time, it was not with the Lakers that were about to face the Clippers. 3-1 they had the Suns, but they could not sentence despite the fact that in the sixth game Kobe went to 50 points. Even Jack Nicholson stopped by Staples in the semis to see the bad brother, one who, for the first time in history, was in the playoffs in place of his glamorous city buddy.

The Los Angeles derby stayed for another occasion, one that has not yet occurred, and the Clippers faced some Suns who had just played seven games in the first round and had to play another seven in the semifinals. Elton Brand started the series with 40 points, but the Angelenos lost. In the second, they endorsed a 25-point win over the Suns in Phoenix. In Los Angeles it was a game for each, and it would be the fifth, again in Arizona, the key. Two overtime gave the victory to the exhausted Suns, with 17 points and 13 assists from Nash and 36 points with 20 rebounds from Shawn Marion, plus 25 from Tim Thomas, who scored 5 of 8 in triples. Bradn went to 33 + 15 in 54:40 and was combined with a Cassell who added 32. The Clippers would shoot with pride and win the sixth in front of their audience (30 + 12 from Brand), but the Suns sentenced at home winning by 20 despite the 36 goals from the pivot, ending the best season of the franchise since his move to Los Angeles, the only one of the Sterling era in which they surpassed a round of playoffs and the one that would be closest to the 50 victories that would exceed a little over five years later.

That's where the Clippers' dream came, their fantastic season. The only one in which they dreamed of something and stopped being the red lantern of a competition that does not wait for anyone and that has never expected anything from them. There they ceased to be the worst in the NBA, at least for a few months, bringing a player to star status and reaffirming Dunleavy in a position he left in the middle of 2009-10. Only in the immediately following season (40-42) did they approach a final phase that they did not tread again until Chris Paul and Blake Griffin landed in the franchise, getting 56 victories and finally winning the division title in 2012. -13, still with Kobe hanging around. Elton Brand was gradually losing level, and went through the Sixers, Mavericks and Hawks, before putting an end to his career in Philadelphia, where today he exercises a job in the offices that is far from perfect. Cassell continued one more season before saying goodbye with a ring in Boston. And Dunleavy and his bad measure arrogance did not return to any bench in the best league in the world. Oh, and Elgin Baylor said goodbye in 2008, after 24 years (many were) in which he tried little and achieved even less.

The problem for the Clippers, however, is not that. Over the years, the aforementioned Ballmer acquired the franchise for $ 2 billion from a Sterling that had cost him 12.5 (the competition has changed, no doubt), which never beat the Lakers (not even in greatness or in classifications, except in very specific cases) and that he dedicated himself to living on the crumbs that were left over from the banquets of the late Jerry Buss, the type of owner that he never managed to be (or seem). Since their departure (perhaps a little earlier), the Clippers managed to climb out of the catacombs and attract stars. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin arrived when he was still swarming around, but it was with Ballmer that they made the definitive leap in quality in terms of merchandising and got the image of their stars linked to the entity for the first time, something unprecedented that was accompanied increased publicity for the team within their city and the highest ticket sales in its history. But, but, but ...

But they keep trying to leave behind a history that their players have always denied, and, yes, they have come out of the pot, but their trajectory is with them and to clean the slate is difficult in a world in which nobody forgets anything and everyone they criticize everything. The Clippers remain one of only three franchises that has never retired a jersey (who of course?) Alongside the Grizzlies and Raptors, only their run spans more than twice as many years as the other two. And they continue, beware of this, without contesting a Conference finals that they have had in their hand twice (3-1 each) in the last decade. The Clippers' problem is not having been the worst basketball entity (even sports) in the United States. The problem is that they remain anchored in a second round of which they do not pass and they cannot leave behind, at least completely, a past that haunts them and that they will not bury until they win. Because, regardless of his years in Buffalo and that lonely 2005-06, there is a lot to make up for. And in recent years they have sought to do it in a big way, especially with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the team. But of course, many were warning during the year, when they saw them play, that winning would not be so easy, for something that sooner or later everyone learns in the NBA: it never is. And the Clippers, as a franchise, know it. After all, they have always lost.

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