Thirteen months ago, Kerry Kittles played in the NBA Finals, he and the New Jersey Nets chasing a championship for the second year in a row.
Thursday he was packed off, nearly gratis, to the Clippers.
The Clippers, accepting the generosity of a team intent on cutting costs and no longer willing to pay a luxury tax, gladly welcomed the 6-foot-5 guard, a seven-year NBA starter who cost them only a second-round pick in next year's draft.
The Nets also sent along $1.5 million.
Of course, there was a catch.
Kittles, 30, is under contract for one season, he'll be an unrestricted free agent next summer and to fit his salary of more than $10.2 million under their cap the Clippers had to renounce Quentin Richardson.
Richardson, six years younger than Kittles and coming off a breakout season, happily jetted off to join the Phoenix Suns, who two weeks ago signed the restricted free agent to a six-year, $42.6-million offer sheet.
But the Clippers, who had 15 days to match the Suns' offer and used every one of them to explore their options, didn't see the downside.
Coach Mike Dunleavy, winding down a working vacation on Nantucket, called Kittles "a perfect fit for our team," a "terrific defender, ballhandler and perimeter shooter" and "definitely the best option for us."
General Manager Elgin Baylor, in Los Angeles, said the Clippers would start right away to pursue a contract extension for Kittles.
Said Kittles: "If everything works out well there ... and they really want me to come back I'll definitely look into it and give it strong consideration."
Two and a half weeks ago, of course, Kobe Bryant was a perfect fit for the Clippers, a player who would make them a playoff contender in the West, but he re-signed with the Lakers and the Clippers started over.
Their search led to Kittles, who was the eighth pick in the 1996 draft and averaged 14.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists during seven seasons with the Nets, sitting out the 2000-01 season because of a knee injury.
A veteran of 54 playoff games, 54 more than the rest of his new teammates combined, Kittles helped the Nets win Eastern Conference titles in 2002 and 2003, joining All-Star point guard Jason Kidd in the backcourt. The Nets lost last season in the conference semifinals, falling to the eventual NBA champion Detroit Pistons in a seven-game series after leading, three games to two.
But the Nets, in the process of being sold, are in cost-cutting mode, last week sending Kenyon Martin to the Denver Nuggets in a sign-and-trade deal.
General Manager Rod Thorn, trying to put a good face on the latest deal, said that Kittles was "more of a role player," though he conceded, "Kerry certainly is a model of what you'd like a player to be, a terrific player."
But he's not Bryant.
"He's a superstar kind of player," said Kittles, speaking from New Jersey and laughing nervously when asked if he was Bryant's fill-in. "He's the cream of the crop. But what I bring to the table, I think everyone knows. I've been in the league for a while, people know my abilities and how I can help a team....
"There are intangibles I bring that are second to none."
Statistically, Kittles wasn't as good as Richardson last season, when Richardson was the Clippers' third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, averaging career highs of 17.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
Kittles averaged 13.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.6 assists.
Kittles, though, averaged nearly five fewer shots per game, is a better ballhandler, shooter and defender than Richardson and has shown greater durability. Last season, for the third time in his career, he played in all 82 regular-season games.
Richardson sat out 17 games last season, many over the last month of the season because of a back injury that the Clippers, privately, have said was worrisome.
Also, the Clippers believe Kittles to be more versatile.
"It always comes down to what you're looking for," Dunleavy said. "It has nothing to do with picking who's a better player, Q or Kittles. It comes down to what we think is a better fit from the standpoint of the direction we're going, how our team is evolving, what we'd like to become. Ultimately, that's the choice we made."
Richardson could live with it.
"I wish them the best of luck," he said, his Clipper career having ended after four seasons. "I want them to win unless they're playing the Suns. I'm still going to watch their games on NBA TV and I'm going to cheer for them. I've got a lot of friends on that team. I don't think it's a bitter departure.
"I'm not looking at it in any negative way. I'm just happy. I don't feel slighted. The biggest thing is, I'm happy about them giving me the opportunity to move on."
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How They Compare
Comparing statistics of former Clipper Quentin Richardson and new Clipper Kerry Kittles, who spent his first seven seasons with the New Jersey Nets:
*--* RICHARDSON KITTLES 4 Years in NBA 7 6-5 Height 6-5 238 Weight 180 17.2 2003-04 Points 13.1 12.0 Career Points 14.3 6.4 2003-04 Reb. 4.0 4.6 Career Reb. 3.9 2.1 2003-04 Ast. 2.6 1.4 Career Ast. 2.6 398 2003-04 FG pct. 453 411 Career FG pct. 439 352 2003-04 3-Pt. pct. 351 350 Career 3-Pt pct. 378 740 2003-04 FT pct. 787 710 Career FT pct. 781 1.03 2003-04 Steals 1.52 0.79 Career Steals 1.62