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ANALYSIS : Clippers Are Off Guard in the Draft

July 02, 1989|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | Times Staff Writer

The Clipper ship sails on, still without a coach, still without a solution to its No. 1 problem from last season, and with its No. 1 addition for next season looking less than thrilled about his destination.

Welcome to the off-season?

It has been more than two months since the Clippers ended their season, and the closest they have come to resolving the uncertain coaching situation is to give Don Casey an indefinite extension on the payroll. In other words, he did not get set adrift Saturday, when his contract was due to run out, but remains aboard as interim coach only.

Owner Donald Sterling has been saying for several weeks that Casey is the leading candidate to become head coach. Others within the organization claim he is the only candidate. Still, the issue drags on.

The Clippers have known since Jan. 19, when Casey replaced Gene Shue, that a coach would have to be hired.

Maybe they want to see how the Clippers perform in summer league games under Casey, the clear choice of the players for the job. Maybe exhibition games will serve as the final determination.

Casey says he has no light to shed on the situation.

"I've said everything there is to say," he said. "I don't think I need to comment any further. We're just looking forward to seeing Danny Ferry come in and join the team, along with the other rookies."

But is Danny Ferry, the club's top draftee, looking forward to it?

By several indications, he is not the happiest millionaire-to-be the National Basketball Assn. has ever seen.

USA Today reported Thursday that Bob Ferry, the Washington Bullets' general manager, spent draft night trying to soothe his son, who didn't understand why the Clippers would pick him when they already have Ken Norman and Charles Smith as starting forwards and Danny Manning--provided he returns from knee surgery--and Joe Wolf in the wings.

In the several days since, Ferry has not returned phone calls to reporters in Los Angeles, and the normally obligatory visit to town for top draft choices has yet to materialize.

Ferry seems as puzzled by his selection as were the fans at the Sports Arena who booed it. Few doubt Ferry's potential or that he was, if Sean Elliott really has knee problems, the best player available in the draft. But where will his playing time come from? Norman and Smith have a combined three years of service and already are the foundation, and that's not even taking Manning into consideration.

With the No. 2 pick in the draft, the Clippers, a team that won 21 games last season, went for a reserve. With No. 26, next-to-last in the first round, the Lakers got a probable starting center, Vlade Divac.

Obviously, it was a tough decision for the Clippers. General Manager Elgin Baylor claims that Ferry was the player he wanted all along, suggesting that reports the Duke All-American would have trouble fitting into a forward-heavy team were merely a smoke screen.

If so, he took it to extremes. Miami Heat co-owner Billy Cunningham called Baylor 30 minutes before the draft, having already heard that the Sacramento Kings would take Pervis Ellison first and hoping to find out the Clipper selection in advance so that the Heat would know what to expect at No. 4. Baylor told Cunningham he didn't know.

The Heat ended up with Glen Rice, who will probably play small forward in Miami. Rice would have been a shooting guard with the Clippers, their foremost weakness. They needed a shooter and passed on the best in the draft, instead waiting until the second round to select Jeff Martin of Murray State and Jay Edwards of Indiana.

The 6-foot-7 Rice tested so well at a pre-draft individual workout in Miami that Heat officials were bubbling. In one test, he touched 12-4 on the backboard with a running start, compared to 12-1 by the 6-9 Ellison. In another, they had Rice stand near the baseline and keep shooting and backing up until he couldn't hit consistently.

They stopped the drill when he was out of bounds.

"He's as good a shooter as I've ever seen play basketball," Cunningham, who played 11 years in the NBA and American Basketball Assn. and coached the Philadelphia 76ers to three NBA finals, told Miami reporters.

There has already been speculation around the league that Ferry, or one of the other forwards, will be traded, and Baylor does not discount that possibility. But this was not a pick for trade bait, so, depending on the recovery of the No. 1 pick a year removed, it could be Norman, Smith, Ferry, Wolf and Danny Manning lining up for playing time.

Decisions, however, will need to be made on several other fronts.

CENTER--The Clippers will undoubtedly match any offer sheet tendered to Benoit Benjamin, a restricted free agent as of Saturday. Benjamin has yet to pick an agent to replace Larry Fleisher, who died in May, so another question is whether teams will be negotiating with Don King, which remains a possibility.

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