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Mark Heisler ON THE NBA

No Longer a Clipper, Miles Speaking His Mind

October 31, 2002|Mark Heisler

They've already broken up that old gang of his....

When Darius Miles arrived three seasons ago, the Clippers were still a laughingstock. When he left last summer, they weren't just local darlings, selling out their last 16 games and running attendance up to an unheard-of 18,000 a game, they were a national phenomenon as well, with Miles' and Lamar Odom's jerseys ranking among the NBA's top-10 sellers.

Now Miles is a Cleveland Cavalier, having been traded for Andre Miller, the Clippers' point guard of the future, or at least the next two seasons. By then, Miller will have become eligible for free agency ... as will Michael Olowokandi ... and Elton Brand ... and Odom, Corey Maggette and Eric Piatkowski.

Notice a trend?

Last summer as the team began negotiations with Olowokandi and Brand, the players waited for a sign that this was a new day in Clipperdom

None came. With no one to bid against, owner Donald T. Sterling nevertheless overcame the temptation to re-sign any of them.

Now the young players who put all those Clipper jokes behind them and vowed to start a new tradition, wonder about their futures here -- or, to be more accurate, are skeptical about having one -- which isn't where you'd like their heads to be at the start of a season.

"Yeah, I heard," said Miles before the Cavaliers' 98-96 upset of the Clippers on Wednesday night. "That's completely crazy. I don't know what they're doing. That's their thing, though....

"Elton Brand made the All-Star team last year and he didn't even get a contract [extension]. He's the only big-name player in his [draft] class that didn't get a contract. [Houston's] Steve Francis got a contract, [New Orleans'] Baron Davis, [Phoenix's] Shawn Marion. They're all in Elton's class, Andre's class. They only signed Mike [Olowokandi] for one year....

"I know they [Clipper players] have got to hold their tongue but I can say something. I'm not on their team any more. I hope them boys get some nice contracts. They deserve them. They're some good players, they deserve everything they can get.

"But that's a shame that you can get a good team, you get a team that can be a contender and a team in the future that can be one of the No. 1 teams in the world and you haven't signed anybody. Everybody's on a rookie contract. You've got all the money, you just don't want to give it up.

"But you know, that's their thing. That's Elgin Baylor and Donald Sterling."

Actually, since large financial commitments are the sole province of Sterling, it's not Baylor. Publicly, the organization expects big things this season.

Privately, the basketball operation is worried, to say the least. Miles spent much of the day with his buddy, Quentin Richardson. Before the game, he went down to the Clipper bench and offered Coach Alvin Gentry his fist.

It's different now. The Clippers were young and talented. The Cavaliers are young and starting over, having just traded Miller, who'd been their best player for three seasons, before they had to sign him to a long-term deal. Tuesday night, they began the season in Sacramento with a 27-point loss.

"Oh, it [getting traded] didn't hurt at all because I know I'm in the best situation," Miles said. "I get a lot of minutes, a lot of shots. I get to show the world what I can really do, instead of holding some of my game back.

"It was a good [Clipper] team. There were a lot of good players on the team but I couldn't do what I can fully do on that team, and I understand that. Either way, I was in a good position....

"They're really cool. You know, we were young, cool, so everything was right."

In the end, the trade may be what Miles needed. He's still an incredible athlete and a terror in the open court but they don't play fastbreak basketball in the NBA any more, so he's going to have to learn to shoot.

Nor did his former teammates look good. Despite a significant superiority in talent and size, the Clippers were fighting for their lives all night, until Zydrunas Ilgauskas' shot with 2.8 seconds left iced them for good.

After a summer of futile negotiations followed by a training camp full of injuries, the Clippers open the season and go splat. Not quite what they'd like to have seen in the way of omens.

The darlings of Clipperdom are still young but they aren't as cool as they used to be. Nor is everything right any more.

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