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Clippers look for an upgrade

They now hold seventh pick in draft, and could be trying to help out a thin backcourt. But they might surprise and go for a big man.

June 26, 2008|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer
  • Texas' D.J. Augustin might be available when the Clippers make their selection.
Texas' D.J. Augustin might be available when the Clippers make their… (Kelly West, Associated…)

At least after the pains, there is a party.

This one is nearly as predictable as an anniversary, with the Clippers shoveling away another disappointing season with a draft party and clinging to the seventh overall selection entering tonight's draft.

The possibilities are endless with their choice, the first steps in which the Clippers either make moves to resemble their playoff team of three seasons ago or sink further into the pits of the Western Conference.

The Clippers, who also hold the 35th pick, have tried to move up in the draft. The most detailed talks have been with the Miami Heat and Seattle SuperSonics, to move to the second or fourth overall picks; however, as of Wednesday, both prices were deemed too high.

Clippers vice president of basketball operations Elgin Baylor said Wednesday no moves appeared imminent. A day earlier, Coach Mike Dunleavy said he expected the team to stay at the seventh slot.

Should the Clippers remain seventh, who they select remains hinged on the flurry of activity that happens before them. They are thin in the backcourt, but the top two guard prospects -- Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo -- will probably be swept away within the first three picks.

The next names high on the Clippers list are Jerryd Bayless, a shooting guard who moonlighted at point while at the University of Arizona, Texas' D.J. Augustin, who is only 5-foot-10 but is regarded as the best pure point guard in the draft not named Rose, and Eric Gordon, a sweet shooter from Indiana who is considered a short shooting guard.

Or the team could defy expectations and choose between big men Kevin Love of UCLA or Stanford's Brook Lopez, if they remain on the board.

"I think it's a good draft. However it goes when it gets to us, we will get a good player," Baylor said.

Amid all that uncertainty is one certainty.

The Clippers covet a contributor similar to when they came away with Al Thornton last season with the No. 14 selection.

Thornton went on to finish on the NBA all-rookie first team as the injury-plagued Clippers ended 23-59.

"When you go through a tough season, the only payoff is coming up with a good player for your future," Dunleavy said.

The draft is just the first in a laundry list of tasks for the Clippers this off-season.

The status of some of their other potential free agents:

Elton Brand: David Falk, Brand's agent, Dunleavy and team President Andy Roeser have held discussions regarding his ability to opt out of the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent. On Wednesday, Falk said the decision will be taken to Monday's opt-out deadline.

Facing an off-season in which few teams have abundant salary-cap space, Falk said Brand's preference is to work out a new, long-term deal with the team or play out the last season of his contract, in which he is due $16.44 million.

Brand missed all but eight games last season while recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon.

"It's not a question that we demanded anything or negotiated anything," Falk said, adding that his good working relationship with the Clippers' front office would benefit both parties. "We've had discussions with both sides on how he can finish out his career with the Clippers. My hope has been we can make a deal with both parties. That's our goal."

Corey Maggette: He still plans to opt out of the final season of his contract Monday. Maggette, who is owed $7 million if he chooses not to become a free agent, has said his desire is to return under a long-term contract with the Clippers.

However, the team could also work out a sign-and-trade for him that could yield the sought-after point guard. Owner Donald Sterling called Maggette on Tuesday and reiterated that he wanted Maggette to remain a Clipper.

Shaun Livingston: After a devastating knee injury sidelined him for nearly a year and a half, Livingston has been cleared to play one-on-one under monitored conditions.

However, he is still unable to play full court with contact and there are concerns from the organization on whether he is healed enough to withstand the rigors of an NBA season. The Clippers will bypass giving Livingston a $5.8-million qualifying offer due July 1, making him an unrestricted free agent.

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The Clippers' draft viewing party for the public will be at the Nokia Theatre, beginning at 3:30 p.m.

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jonathan.abrams@latimes.com

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