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NBA DRAFT

Mysterious Clippers

Pro basketball: They might get Miller, they might keep their picks. Even they aren't sure.

June 25, 2002|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Clippers are going to trade the eighth and 12th picks in the NBA draft Wednesday, plus forward Corey Maggette, to get standout point guard Andre Miller from the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Unless they don't.

Maybe they will deal the 12th pick and keep the No. 8.

Or maybe not.

Perhaps they won't deal at all.

Or ...

This much is certain: The draft begins at 4:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden in New York and will be shown live on TNT.

Even the Clippers, who acknowledged Monday that they have been speaking to the Cavaliers about Miller, seem hazy on what they expect to happen Wednesday.

A deal with Cleveland hinges on the Cavaliers' willingness to trade Miller and begin an overhaul of the roster.

Last season, the Clippers were involved in discussions with the Chicago Bulls about swapping the second overall pick--which turned out to be high school sensation Tyson Chandler--to get power forward Elton Brand.

The talks progressed as the draft began, ending with Chandler and Brian Skinner going to Chicago for Brand.

That scenario could be repeated Wednesday, with the Clippers holding two high picks in the first round and one, at No. 41 overall, in the second. The Clippers, 39-43 last season, are bent on continuing their slow but steady improvement.

There have been persistent rumors that the Clippers will package picks and/or current players in order to get a point guard to replace Jeff McInnis, an unrestricted free agent whose fiery demeanor troubled Coach Alvin Gentry and several teammates at times last season.

Until the last few days, the most frequently mentioned Clippers involved in possible trades were forward Lamar Odom and center Michael Olowokandi. But General Manager Elgin Baylor has sought to quash any notions of a deal involving either.

"You can't believe everything you read," Baylor said. "There's nothing to it. We're talking to teams. We're listening to teams. None of the teams above us [in the draft order] are willing to move down.... We have not talked to any team [about Odom]. Any team that's asked about Lamar we've told, 'We're not trading Lamar.' We have not called any other team and asked about trading Lamar.... We don't want to move Michael."

With that said, Baylor added, "There are only two untouchables in the league, Shaq [O'Neal] and Tim Duncan."

To which Gentry said, "No, because you could trade Shaq for Tim Duncan."

The Clippers do appear in need of a point guard if McInnis isn't to be re-signed. They could be in luck if the Cavaliers decide to trade Miller, who will become a free agent after the 2002-03 season, although sending them picks plus Maggette--or perhaps Quentin Richardson--could be a steep price to pay.

So, the Clippers could end up keeping their picks, although Duke point guard Jay Williams is expected to be taken by the Bulls as the second overall pick, after the Houston Rockets take center Yao Ming from China.

"We don't know what's going to happen between now and the draft," Baylor said. "The closer it gets, the more teams are going to be willing to talk trades."

When asked about simply keeping the picks, Baylor said, "We're looking for a player to help us--if not immediately, then down the line."

Should the Clippers make their selections, it could be awhile before the first-round picks crack the starting lineup. The Clippers are loaded, if a wee bit inexperienced. Brand, Odom and Olowokandi form a versatile front line, with veteran Eric Piatkowski at shooting guard and a glaring question mark at the point.

One way to solve the void at the point would be to sign Marko Jaric, their second-round pick in the 2000 draft. Jaric, who is 6 feet 7, has until July 15 to opt out of his contract with his Italian club team and sign with the Clippers, holders of his NBA rights.

"We're talking, trying to work out the details with his agent," Baylor said. "Jaric is considered one of the best point guards in Europe."

Odom, considered one of the game's most versatile players, has played the point on occasion. But, at 6-10, he's a good deal more effective closer to the basket.

Odom is coming off season-ending surgery on his right wrist. The cast was removed two weeks ago, and he has been cleared to begin dribbling a basketball as part of his rehabilitation exercises.

Keyon Dooling, a third-year player who missed much of last season because of a badly sprained ankle, doesn't have the experience to run the point the way the Clippers need it to be run.

Unlike their last four drafts, the Clippers will be adding depth with their picks, rather than filling glaring holes on the roster. Last season, they dealt for Brand. In 2000, they picked Darius Miles, a key reserve forward, third overall. In 1999, they took Odom fourth. In 1998, they selected Olowokandi first.

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