The Clippers introduced two fresh-faced young men to a room filled with skeptics Monday. Chris Wilcox and Melvin Ely donned red, white and blue Clipper caps and held up jerseys during a news conference at Staples Center.
Neither player has signed an NBA contract but it's expected that each will soon put his name on a three-season deal with a fourth year as a team option. Neither seemed all that comfortable on the dais with General Manager Elgin Baylor and Coach Alvin Gentry.
Who could blame them?
The Clippers were trying to trade them on the night of the NBA draft, June 26, trying desperately to acquire point guard Andre Miller from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In the end, a proposed deal that would have sent Miller and Cleveland's first-round pick (No. 6 overall) to the Clippers for the eighth pick and Lamar Odom collapsed. The Clippers selected Wilcox, from Maryland, eighth and Ely, from Fresno State, 12th.
"I want to make one thing clear," Baylor said Monday, prefacing his introduction of Wilcox and Ely. "There were questions about a spur-of-the-moment deal, but when it came time for us to draft, these are the players we wanted to get. That's who we had on our board. We're happy to have them."
A trade with the Cavaliers for Miller remains a possibility, although there is nothing imminent. Neither Wilcox nor Ely will play in the Dada Summer Pro League at Long Beach State, but they will join some of their new teammates for workouts.
Both players seemed eager to get started. Playing time, however, could be scarce if they remain Clippers. Both are power forwards and would play behind Elton Brand, a first-time All-Star last season.
Ely, 6 feet 10 and 260 pounds, probably has a slight advantage over Wilcox, 6-10 and 221 pounds, because he can also play center.
"There's this misconception that we have all these big guys," Gentry said, referring to a logjam at power forward. "It gives us the opportunity to run guys in and out of the games. When you play Tim Duncan one night, Shaq [O'Neal] on another and then Chris Webber on another, you need big people."
When asked about finding sufficient playing time for all his forwards, Gentry said, "I don't mind having that problem. I would rather have guys upset about not playing than have guys content about just getting a paycheck."
Wilcox, 19, has experience playing his way into the starting five. He worked his way into Maryland's rotation and led the Terrapins to the NCAA championship as a sophomore after filling a reserve role as a freshman.
"Once I got into it," he said of moving into the starting five early last season, "I wasn't going to give it back." Of joining the Clippers, he said, "It's a great team to play with. I think I'll fit in great."
Ely, 24, played as a youth with Clipper guard and fellow Chicago-area native Quentin Richardson, but began to wonder while at Fresno State whether he could join his childhood teammate and friend in the NBA.
"The older I got, the more I realized how unlikely it was that I would get picked," Ely said. "But by staying in school, I learned a lot. I spent five years with [former Bulldog Coach] Jerry Tarkanian and that could only help."