For you shoppers, the Clippers are offering an improved product at the old bargain prices.
Two more victories and they'll equal last season's total. You won't have to deal with crowds, long lines at concession stands or parking hassles. You can stay for the entire game and be on the freeway within 15 minutes.
The Clippers are usually competitive and will improve if they get Rodney Rogers up to speed, Brent Barry calmed down and Brian Williams signed. Despite the fact everyone's doing it, it's too early to judge the Antonio McDyess trade, but no matter what else happens, the Clippers have a chance to make their end work.
A year ago, the Sports Arena was a halfway house. The point guard was coming off a year's sentence on the Pacer bench. The big guard had just been converted from small forward. The small forward was a rookie. The power forward was a complementary player who was called upon to carry them. The 300-pound center suffered his second season-ending injury and was replaced by a 210-pounder from the CBA.
Now they're more like an NBA team:
Pooh Richardson--It took a while to get his confidence back last season. Then he was sidelined for the first month of this one. He isn't back to the 45% shooter he once was, but he's happy in his beloved L.A. and working on it.
Barry--Possible prodigy, even if Coach Bill Fitch tethers him to the bench to remind him of the importance of poise and defense. (Six turnovers Friday against the Lakers suggest he's still learning. Next, Fitch will have him write on the blackboard, "I will not throw behind-the-back passes in traffic.") Barry can shoot, pass, handle and has a fire burning within him, so there's every reason to believe he'll make it.
Terry Dehere--He has come a long way, but size and circumstances make him a reserve. His agent faxed in a protest. Fitch said he filed it.
Malik Sealy--Injured now. His shooting must improve, but he has legitimate tools.
Lamond Murray--Hasn't happened. He'll do an awesome move, dunk or rebound, showing why general managers loved him in the '94 draft, but it's generally a surprise when it happens. Seems to lack drive or confidence and doesn't have forever to find it because of . . .
Rogers--Injuries have slowed him, but his record shows he can match Murray's numbers in his sleep.
Loy Vaught--He couldn't carry them, but 17 points, 10 rebounds and 52% are nice to have. Other teams keep asking for him.
Williams--The linchpin of the deal.
In his first season at center, he's already one of the NBA's top 10. If he gets the 10 rebounds a game Fitch wants, he'll be closing on the top five. He was at 6.6 in November, 7.5 in December and 8.9 this month, so at least he's headed in the right direction.
Personally, Williams is an eye-opener: whip smart (who was the last player you knew who read Nietzsche or, come to think of it, the last person you knew who read Nietzsche?), adventurous and, off the floor, a dedicated nonconformist.
NBA people have never been sure what to make of him. When he left Arizona in 1991, several teams put private detectives on him.
"They thought I was gay coming out of college," Williams says, matter-of-factly.
"If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to be afraid of. I kind of find it hilarious that they want to put a private eye on a 21-year-old kid coming out of college to find out what he's doing that could be detrimental to your team. I don't think there's even a wrong crowd to hang out with in Tucson, Ariz.
"What the hell does it matter that I felt like chasing bulls down a Spanish street, that I have jumped off a mountain with a parachute on my back? What does it matter, really?"
He's 6 feet 11 and can play, so it doesn't matter at all, except to remind general managers what exclusionary clauses to put in his next contract.
He can spend his summer with Tibetan monks, and there will still be a line out the door if he opts for free agency next summer. If Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo stay where they are, big players such as Williams, Juwan Howard and Dale Davis will be that much more valuable.
Signing Williams is all-important for the Clippers, who will match any offer. The real question is, where does he want to be?
"Planet Earth is my home," he announces. "That's all the home I need. I just wander the Earth. I am king. I don't need a starting point. I don't need a destination."
In other words, he isn't saying. However this turns out, it's fun having him around.
The NBA, restructured by the new labor agreement, is hard on the reputationally challenged, and those 10,000 empty seats at home games is a major downer. The franchise's problem remains, giving its players tangible proof it's moving forward.
A former Clipper official warns of a deadline: If they hope to sell the 200 luxury boxes that would make a new arena profitable, they should do something--a move, construction or renovation--before the new Taj Mahal for the Kings and Lakers is announced and goes after the same corporate money.