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Davis is Clippers' rogue element

November 12, 2008|BILL PLASCHKE

The Clippers wanted Hollywood, they've got Hollywood.

Seven games into the season, they've got a flamboyant actor staring down a meticulous director in what eventually could become a battle for the big screen.

Whose movie is it, anyway?

Does it belong to Baron Davis, the leading man signed to a $65-million contract this summer in the Clippers' attempt to grab some leftover Lakers glitter?

Or does it belong to Mike Dunleavy, the ruler-tapping boss who believes all that glitters is cold?

Does it belong to Davis, the guard who once took a ragged Golden State Warriors team to the Western Conference semifinals?

Or does it belong to Dunleavy, who once led the ragged Clippers to the same spot?

Davis already has winced at parts of Dunleavy's rigid system, and is openly worrying that the thick playbook weighs heavily on the freelance ability that has made him one of the league's best guards.

Dunleavy has sighed at Davis' wince, and is quietly hoping that his best player will eventually buy into a script he believes will only make Davis better.

Seven games into the season, the Clippers' biggest issue is not with other teams, but between their two most high-profile employees, Davis and Dunleavy trying desperately to figure each other out.

At stake is everything.

"This is either going to be the greatest thing ever, or it's going to be a disaster," said Clippers center Chris Kaman.

In their last game, their season-first victory against Dallas, fans saw some of that greatest thing ever.

Davis, using his creativity to enrich Dunleavy's set plays, had 22 points and 10 assists that included a couple of the first ally-oop dunk passes in Kaman's career.

But, in the same game, fans also saw some of the disaster.

Davis, sometimes rewriting Dunleavy's script to take bail-out heaves early in the clock, needed 19 shots for those 22 points, and clearly didn't run all the plays that were ordered.

Said Davis: "There's definitely a disconnect there. I've never had so many plays in my entire career."

Said Dunleavy: "We're working through it right now."

Said Davis: "I have to figure out how to fit more into his system, and he has to figure out how to relax his grip."

Said Dunleavy: "I'm confident everything will be fine."

So Davis likes to break dance while Dunleavy designs only intricate waltzes, and thus the question of the Clippers' season becomes a singular one: What are they doing together in the first place?

Before Davis signed here from the Warriors -- who have run approximately one play every couple of years under Don Nelson -- didn't he know that Dunleavy was the anti-Nellie?

"I had no idea," Davis said.

No idea? No research into your future boss? No examination of how you would fit into his rigid system?

"That really didn't matter to me," Davis said. "I just knew I would be coming home."

Aw, OK, it's hard to argue with that, and with the lure of $65 million, so let's ask Dunleavy.

Before signing Davis to a contract, didn't you know he was a freelancer? Did you not watch him drive Byron Scott a little batty in New Orleans? Did you not see how he was the epitome of that wild team in Oakland?

"We had studied Baron, sure, and we loved his ability and his leadership," Dunleavy said. "We also knew he loved to win, and that would be more important to him than anything."

From the beginning of training camp, Dunleavy has preached winning to Davis, reminding him that no matter how much he dazzles the Hollywood crowd, only by winning will he truly make an impact here.

"I talked to him a lot about Magic Johnson, and how he worked within a system to lift everyone up around him," Dunleavy said. "I am convinced Baron is that same type of player."

But, also from the beginning of training camp, Davis has been admittedly surprised by Dunleavy's ideas of how to win, and has fretted that so many intricate plays and systems would hurt his natural ability.

"It's like every time we come down the floor, everyone is trying to figure out the play, and by the time I get it called out and everyone knows it, there is eight seconds left on the shot clock," Davis said. "It takes away some of our instincts."

Davis' impatience and Dunleavy's precision have clashed in practice, leading to a couple of frustrated discussions.

Then, in the Clippers' season opener against the Lakers, Davis had not played enough to know all the plays and often improvised.

Said Davis: "Any time you go into a new environment, you have to learn a new system, there are adjustments you have to make."

Said Dunleavy: "I know it's hard, but I know Baron has the ability to be a great leader here."

The answer to the Clippers' success, of course, is probably somewhere in between this rock of a coach and the hard place occupied by Davis.

"It's going to be a flex issue," Kaman said. "Sometimes Baron is going to have to run Mike's plays, but sometimes Mike is going to have to let Baron do his own thing."

Kaman's right, if both men win, the Clippers win.

The greatest thing ever, or a disaster.

--

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

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