If everything goes as planned, the Clippers' point guard of the future will be rookie Keyon Dooling.
After years of instability at the position, the Clippers made it clear that Dooling was their man when they acquired him in a draft-night trade from Orlando. The Clippers see Dooling as a player athletic enough to complement the team's group of talented swingmen.
Dooling, who led Missouri in scoring as a sophomore last season, has slowly gained the confidence of Coach Alvin Gentry after getting off to a slow start because of a foot injury in training camp.
"Jeff [McInnis] played so well the first couple of games, he ended up playing 40 or 42 minutes. . . . Now we're trying to cut Jeff's minutes just a little bit to keep him a little fresher," Gentry said before the Clippers defeated the Atlanta Hawks, 115-106, on Friday night at Staples Center.
"Keyon has been able to go in and play well. He'll continue to get better. He's just one of those young guys like Darius [Miles] and Quentin [Richardson] where the more time they are out there the better they are going to get. They may make some mistakes, but this is going to be on-the-job training."
Although he said playing heavy minutes is not a problem, McInnis understands why Gentry is giving Dooling more time.
"As long as I know what is going to happen ahead of time, I'm cool," McInnis said. "I understand when Keyon is playing real good, he'll stay in the game even if it is the fourth quarter. I'm all for the team and I want to win games."
But don't look for Dooling to start any time soon.
"He has to work on initiating the offense, maybe taking an extra dribble when a pass should have been made. . . . He makes little mistakes that all young guys make," Gentry said. "I don't think it is a negative thing, he is trying to do everything we ask him to do. He'll just continue to get better."
The Clippers completed a five-game stretch playing at Staples Center on Friday night. Gentry wanted his team to finish over .500 during the span, even if one game was technically a road game against the Lakers.
"I've been happy with the effort that we've been playing with," Gentry said about the Clippers, who finished 2-3 during the stretch. "I guess what makes it tough is [losses to the Lakers and Utah] are games we had a chance at the five-minute mark, but we didn't make the plays to win. We just have to learn how to execute down the stretch."
Added McInnis: "We're growing as a team but I'm not into playing teams close and losing. Those are games we could have won with a little more concentration at key times."
When veteran shooting guard Eric Piatkowski entered Friday night's game in the second quarter, it was his 407th game as a Clipper, moving him into fifth place on the franchise's all-time list. Piatkowski needs 32 more games to tie Ken Norman for fourth place. . . . McInnis entered Friday's game with the fifth-best field goal percentage in the league at 56.9%.