A fan at their Staples Center finale 10 days ago carried a handmade sign that summarized the Clippers' No. 1 objective: "Re-sign Bobby."
Bobby Simmons, who is expected to be introduced Thursday as the NBA's most improved player, is the latest Clipper eligible to jump ship. But unlike Elton Brand and Corey Maggette two summers ago and Quentin Richardson last summer, he'll be an unrestricted free agent July 1. If he signs elsewhere, he's gone.
Keeping him in the fold tops the Clippers' summer to-do list.
"It's a very high priority, as far as I'm concerned," Coach Mike Dunleavy told a small group of reporters Monday. "I'm hopeful that he's happy here, that he's enjoyed playing with the Clippers and wants to stay."
Cast adrift by the Washington Wizards two summers ago, Simmons was signed by the Clippers to a two-year, $1.575-million contract.
The team's most reliable and versatile reserve during his first season in Los Angeles, the 6-foot-6 forward from DePaul took advantage this season of an opportunity brought about by injuries to other players and blossomed into a solid starter, dramatically improving his statistics across the board.
And after making $825,000 this season, the 24-year-old is expected to be a hot commodity this summer, probably commanding a multiyear contract along the lines of the six-year, $42-million deal signed by Maggette two years ago.
"There's no question there will be a lot of people pursuing him," his agent, Mark Bartelstein, said Monday by phone. "He's kind of an old-school guy. He's a throwback. He makes shots and he defends and you can count on him every night."
All things being equal, Simmons said last week that "of course" he would like to stay with the team that gave him a chance.
"He would be thrilled if we can work something out with the Clippers," Bartelstein said. "But this is the first time he's really been a free agent and he's going to have an open mind and kind of see how the thing plays out."