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Clippers Show No Signs of Turning it Around

April 04, 1999|From Bloomberg News Service

Brent Barry's Chicago Bulls are mired in last place, and he's trying to replace Michael Jordan on a team without Scottie Pippen or Dennis Rodman.

It could be worse, he said.

"Don't forget I played for the Clippers," he said.

The 3-27 Los Angeles Clippers are, have been, and probably will be the National Basketball Association's worst team. Until owner Donald Sterling opens his wallet, it's unlikely the Clippers will shed their image as a second-rate franchise, players and agents said.

"The owner is going to have to pay some players," said Clippers forward Lorenzen Wright. "Something has to change."

Sterling hasn't paid for top-notch talent since he bought the team for $12.5 million in 1981.

This season is no different. The Clippers and Bulls are the only NBA teams who aren't spending the maximum allowed under the league's $30 million salary cap. Some teams are spending almost twice as much because of exceptions.

The Bulls have a plausible excuse for a low payroll: After winning six championships this decade, they are rebuilding after Jordan's retirement.

Sterling didn't return repeated telephone calls seeking comment, although he recently was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying that he was baffled by the team's misfortune.

"From an owner's point of view, I really don't know what to say," he said. "I'm certainly disappointed. But I am committed to winning, and I will do anything we can to get there."

Sterling should watch how other teams approach their business, said New York Knicks assistant Don Chaney, who coached the Clippers from 1984-87.

"If you're going to run an organization, you have to do what the better organizations are doing," he said. "They get good players and they pay to keep them. The Clippers don't."

Because agents know Sterling's ways, they often steer clients to other teams. Robert Fayne represents the 23-year-old Wright, who said he probably won't re-sign after the season.

"There's been an unwillingness to invest in talent on the part of the owner," Fayne said. "I haven't seen any hard evidence that there has been a change of direction."

The Clippers have a history of failure, although at times they've assembled a talented nucleus.

How bad have they been? The Clippers haven't won back-to-back games since January 1998, finishing last season with 17 wins. Although they made the playoffs during the 1996-97 campaign, they did it with a 36-46 record.

The Clippers haven't posted a winning record since the 1991-92 season, when under coach Larry Brown their roster included notables Danny Manning, Ron Harper and Charles Smith.

The following year they went 41-41, adding point guard Mark Jackson in a trade that included Smith. Those players were drafted or acquired in trades by General Manager Elgin Baylor, who wouldn't comment for this story.

The talent was short-lived, and so was the success.

Manning in 1994 was traded for Dominique Wilkins, who left the team after only one season. The Clippers could have gotten Glen Rice, now one of the league's best players, although Sterling canceled the move in hopes of re-signing Manning. Harper then left via free agency and Jackson was traded to the Indiana Pacers. Recently, they've had and lost the likes of Antonio McDyess, Isaac Austin and Malik Sealy.

The Clippers will inhabit the downtown Staples Center and leave behind the L.A. Sports Arena next season. They'll share the new arena with the NBA's Lakers and National Hockey League's Kings.

Barry said he's shocked that the NBA would allow the Clippers to share a building with the Lakers, one of the league's marquee teams.

"They're going to be like a jayvee team," Barry said. "The Lakers will always be big brother."

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