SANTA BARBARA — Although many deserved credit for the Clippers' best season in franchise history, Coach Mike Dunleavy played a major role, All-Star forward Elton Brand said.
The Clippers had their highest victory total in California last season, set a franchise mark for road victories, made their first playoff appearance in nine seasons and won a postseason series for the first time in 30 years. They advanced to Game 7 of their Western Conference semifinals series against the Phoenix Suns, and Andy Roeser, executive vice president, recently confirmed that business is booming.
Brand said it might not have happened without Dunleavy, whose contract expires after the season.
"It's just like in baseball and football, or any team sport, when you see those teams that can't get over the top for years," Brand said after practice Friday at Santa Barbara City College. "Even if they have talent, it just doesn't seem to work until they get the right leader. He's definitely our leader."
Brand noted, "We've gotten better every year with him leading us. He knows how to get the best out of us."
The Clippers won 28 games in Dunleavy's first season, 37 in his second and 47 last season.
"He's a tireless worker and he's all about winning," Brand said. "You know he's always working on something else to get it done."
On the advice of Dunleavy, Brand dropped about 20 pounds and worked on his mid-range jump shot before last season. He averaged 24.7 points, 10 rebounds, 2.54 blocked shots and was selected second-team All-NBA.
"Without a doubt, I credit him with a lot of my development," Brand said. "He got me second-team All-NBA and a long playoff run."
Brand said he expected even better times ahead with Dunleavy at the helm.
"He's just done a great job," Brand said. "I really can't see playing for anybody else."
General Manager Elgin Baylor is pleased with the roster -- which includes 14 players with guaranteed contracts -- that he and Dunleavy assembled.
"It's probably the most depth we've had since I've been here," said Baylor, in his 21st season with the Clippers. "Mike and I always talk about what we're looking for and the type of guys we'd like to bring in. We definitely like this group."
Veteran forward Tim Thomas, who had gum surgery in Los Angeles on Thursday, is expected to return to training camp today. Dunleavy had hoped Thomas, also sidelined because of a sore lower back, would have rejoined the team Friday. The Clippers signed the three-point specialist to a four-year, $24-million contract.
Backup center Zeljko Rebraca, who remained in Los Angeles because of back problems, received a second epidural injection, Dunleavy said. Rebraca sat out most of last season because of heart and conditioning problems.