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BILL PLASCHKE

Clippers, get a coach on a mission -- yours

Finish the job of becoming a contender by hiring the right coach. Byron Scott, Avery Johnson and Jeff Van Gundy come to mind.

February 05, 2010|Bill Plaschke

Who says you can't win the lottery twice?

Mike Dunleavy is a great guy, but the decision Thursday to finally move him off the Clippers' bench could prove as charmed as last spring's draft win.

Back then, the Clippers used the NBA lottery prize to make Blake Griffin the No. 1 overall pick.

Thanks to Dunleavy's departure, they now have a chance to make the same kind of impact addition with a coach.

They have never been in a better position to add the guy who can lead them into June.

They have never had more toys. They have never had more money. If one can look past the history of owner Donald Sterling, they have never looked so good.

"If the job were open, all kinds of people would want this job," said Dunleavy in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. "It's a major attractive job."

Dunleavy, who will probably be making the hire from his seat as general manager, said if the job were open because right now, the Clippers are finishing the season with career assistant Kim Hughes. Best of luck to the 6-foot-11 boss; he has survived nearly seven seasons here, perhaps he can figure out a way to inspire 25 or so wins in the final 33 games from a bunch that recently lost consecutive games to the teams with the two worst records in the NBA.

Barring that, the chances of Hughes' keeping the job are Kim-possible.

Which brings us to next summer, which will offer yet another glimpse into the mysterious thing known as the Clipper soul.

Considering Dunleavy will be making an astronomical salary for being strictly a general manager -- his $5 million will be roughly twice the bones paid to the Lakers' Mitch Kupchak -- the Clippers will have a couple of choices.

1) Live down to old expectations and roll the dice with somebody inexperienced and cheap, because who can afford $10 million for a coach and general manager?

2) Live up to your new mission and hire the right guy at any price.

There is only one right answer here. At least, there is only one answer given by champions. It is the second one, and the Clippers know it, and I know they can do it.

They signed Baron Davis. They paid Chris Kaman. They built a gleaming new practice facility. They made smart draft picks.

Heck, they came within one game of the Western Conference finals several years ago, remember?

They can finish the job. They can finish it right here, right now, just like the Lakers finished their job with their two hirings of Phil Jackson.

There's a shortage of NBA championship coaches who are looking for work, but why not get a guy who has at least coached in the NBA Finals?

There's actually three good unemployed ones out there -- Jeff Van Gundy, Avery Johnson and Byron Scott.

All three have the presence that would work in the town. All three have the credibility that would thrive in the locker room.

Van Gundy missed the playoffs only once in his 10 full coaching seasons with the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets.

Johnson had a 194-70 record with Dallas while making the playoffs in each of his four full seasons.

Then, of course, there's B-Scott, who led the New Jersey Nets to the Finals in consecutive seasons and, as a former Laker, would be a huge Staples Center favorite.

Coaching here in a giant purple and gold shadow isn't easy. Dealing with the karma -- yes, karma -- that comes with a Sterling franchise sometimes isn't fun. Dunleavy meant well, but his overbearing nature wore on the players, both infuriating and paralyzing them. If he didn't have the big contract, he would have been off the bench long ago.

"It's an uphill battle. I've been drained, I'm counterpunching all the time," Dunleavy said.

He didn't always do a good job coaching the Clippers. But, along with President Andy Roeser, Dunleavy has done a darn good job building them.

The new hire is in two good sets of hands. Championship hopes are now theirs to fumble.

It's draft day all over again. The clock ticks. The league watches. The future beckons. Make the right pick.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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