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Bill Plaschke

Time for Clippers to Stop Whining, Start Working

November 22, 2002|Bill Plaschke

Maybe something is getting lost in the translation. Or maybe I know too many people who, in the face of demoralizing working conditions, continue to honor their paycheck and their pride.

Whatever the reason, when it comes to the Clippers, I just don't get it.

They are saying their early-season troubles are related to last summer's failed contract negotiations.

I am hearing an excuse.

They are intimating that it's difficult to play as a team if you are not sure how long your team will stay together.

I'm thinking, in what other line of work is it acceptable to blow off November because you are worried about next June?

They are fumbling rebounds and losing passes while pointing fingers at their owner and their salaries.

I'm thinking, shut up and play.

I know I'm on dangerous ground here, messing with this town's darlings, these poor guys who have been so terribly mistreated for so long.

This is even more tricky when it could be viewed as an endorsement of Donald Sterling, which it certainly is not. By failing to sign Michael Olowokandi or Elton Brand this summer, he has shown yet again that his ownership is not to be trusted, again making his fans look like fools.

But, hey, how about sprinkling the condemnations with a little common sense?

How about holding the players accountable for, I don't know, something?

Fans in this town booed Devon White for not working for his $5 million.

Yet they forgive Olowokandi for saying he's distracted while playing for $6.1 million.

They still boo Rob Blake for turning down $21.5 million.

Yet they feel sympathy toward Elton Brand when he turns down $60 million.

It's amazing what people will forgive in professional basketball players that they would never forgive in themselves.

Your boss is a jerk and you haven't had a raise in two years and your morale stinks and what do you do?

I'm guessing you still show up for work every morning.

The Clippers have all had nice raises, with guaranteed contracts for this season, but the boss refuses to meet their future salary demands, so what do they do?

They blow the opener against Cleveland, fail to show up in Portland, lose a big lead against Seattle, botch a chance to beat short-handed Sacramento. They are a potential playoff team now 4-8.

Yet everyone blames the boss.

OK, so Sterling was a short-sighted fool for not increasing his $60-million offer to Brand by $10 million, thus ensuring that their hardest-working player sticks around.

And, certainly, Sterling was downright derelict in not coming within $15 million of Olowokandi's $75-million request, almost ensuring that he will lose one of the league's top centers.

But for the Clippers to blame their current problems on these potential problems is like a guy taking the afternoon off because he's worried about getting mugged that night.

Could the Clippers at least finish their shift?

And about that mugging, it isn't as if the entire Clipper team is getting tossed into a dumpster.

In fact, an examination of their contracts shows that, for all the league legalese being thrown out this summer, the only two impact players who could actually, physically walk away are Olowokandi and Eric Piatkowski.

Corey Maggette, Andre Miller, Lamar Odom and Brand all must stay through next season if the Clippers want them to stay.

Yet listening to all the media buzz around the league, you would think that any minute, the entire franchise will disappear.

How hard must it be for the Clippers to play, knowing they could all be gone!

Please.

Brand is making $4.9 million this season. Miller is making $2.5 million. Maggette is making $2.1 million.

They survive these unstable times simply by honoring those numbers and the fans who help pay them.

"I'm definitely putting all this stuff in the back of my mind, the only important thing is to win," Olowokandi said Wednesday after the Clippers blew a fourth-quarter lead in an avoidable loss to the Sacramento Kings. "But one is human, after all. That's the human part of everyone. Everyone who is saying they're not thinking about this at all is flat lying."

Agreed.

But winners forget such things long enough to block out on a free throw, something the Clippers failed to do in a key miscommunication against the Kings.

Winners forget such things long enough to help out on defense.

Winners don't use excuses.

And winning coaches don't allow them.

Alvin Gentry was stern about this Wednesday, saying contracts weren't an issue, and shouldn't be an issue.

Gentry needs to remain tough, allow no alibis, fight to keep focus.

If his players' attitude is going to eventually roast this good guy -- and you know it will -- the least he can do is make them equally uncomfortable.

Of course, in the end, the players will win.

Being a Clipper means never having to take the blame for anything.

Playing for this sorry franchise means never having to say you're sorry.

*

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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