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David
07-19-2002, 10:19 PM
Clips must ride trade wins to playoffs

By Chad Ford
ESPN.com

Editor's note: ESPN Insider's Chad Ford breaks down what last season's lottery teams need to do to get to the playoffs.
ESPN.com's "Fixer-Upper" series continues with the Los Angeles Clippers.

On draft night in 2001, Clippers owner Donald Sterling surprised the league by pulling off his first blockbuster trade, grabbing
All-Star Elton Brand in return for the Clippers' No. 1 pick. He then promptly shocked the world when he kept a straight face
while promising that he would not screw this up.

One year later, Michael Olowokandi is still waiting for a contract offer, Brand is in the dark and Lamar Odom's future has
never been dimmer.

Will Scrooge ever open his money bag?

Pick up a calculator and do the math. Unless Sterling's body has been possessed by Mark Cuban,
the budget will remain tight. The Clippers simply cannot pay all of the guys with their hands
outstretched right now without incurring a Blazer-esque luxury tax penalty down the road.

But don't put all of the blame on Sterling, the league's resident cheapskate. His players, and the
agents that negotiate for them, might share in the mess this time around.

See, before Brand signs a $100 million extension, he'd like to be sure that Olowokandi gets one, too.
Before Olowokandi signs his, he'd like to make sure his boys Brand and Odom are taken care of.

While we're at it, everyone believes that Corey Maggette, while not a max player, is worth a huge
chunk of change. Who doesn't love Jeff McInnis? And don't forget the Polish Rifle.

How deep is the Clippers' love? Players are already talking about extensions for Darius Miles, Quentin Richardson and Keyon
Dooling 18 months before they're eligible.

While the Clippers may, at times, play "me first" basketball, apparently they don't take the same tack at the negotiating table.
When it comes time to collecting their paychecks, they're tighter than the cast of "Friends."

If the Clippers get smart -- which is no small feat, mind you -- they'll ignore the media and the increasing hype being fueled by
these players' agents and carefully decide who is worth the cash and who isn't.

Can the Clips finally bust into the Western Conference playoff party? They're a point guard and a luxury-tax check away.
ESPN.com poured over depth charts, trade rumors, salary cap information and even sought the advice of a few NBA general
managers to give you the five things the Clippers must do to get into the playoffs.

Step 1: Restart talks with Cavs and Hornets.
Sterling is already trying everyone's patience. On draft night, he had two potential blockbuster deals
on the table that could have landed him Baron Davis and Andre Miller. He rejected one outright and
botched the other. The Clippers were offering Odom and the No. 8 pick (which turned into Chris
Wilcox) for Miller and Davis. The question is, which point guard do they prefer? Davis has the flash
and explosivness to fit right in. Miller is old school, but that may be just what the Clippers' kids need.
Sources in L.A. claim that the team is higher on Davis and is holding out for him. Despite the Hornets' insistence that they won't
trade Davis, it's possible. The Hornets are leery of pulling the trigger because they'd be left without a point guard. What the
Clips need to do is to work out a three-way trade that sends Odom and Wilcox to the Cavaliers, Miller to the Hornets and
Davis to the Clippers.

Step 2: Give Michael Olowokandi the max.
He's not the most skilled player or even the player with the most impact. But he's their biggest player, and in the
NBA, finding big guys with a clue is like tilting at windmills. If it takes a six-year, $84 million deal to keep
Olowokandi out of Jerry Krause's grubby little hands, the Clippers should do it. "Of all the guys on the Clippers,
he's the player we all covet," one league executive said. "He's still raw, but you see him improving every season.
You're always a little concerned when you see a guy make a huge jump in his play during a contract year, but
Michael's combination of power, athleticism and size doesn't come along very often. If he played on a team that featured him
more in the offense, I think he'd be an All-Star."

Step 3: Give Brand and Davis fat contract extensions.
Brand is considered the no-brainer of the group. He answered most of his critics last season,
averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds on a much better team. He's the unquestioned leader of a team
filled with high school and college castoffs and has the demeanor of a 22-year-old boy scout. In other
words, he's a coach's dream. But several general managers questioned whether Brand, despite the
flawless résumé, is really worth the max. "He's very good, but is he great?" one GM asked. "He
works hard, is a great locker room guy and is as dependable as they come, but in the end you want a dominant guy. He lacks
the size and the athleticism to be truly dominant the way Tim Duncan or Chris Webber can be. Don't get me wrong, I'd throw a
lot of money Elton's way, but I doubt it would be the max." I think you could justify a seven-year, $60 million deal along the
lines of Raef LaFrentz for Brand. Davis, on the other hand, is a no-brainer. He is one of the top three young point guards in the
league, can run the team and make the big shot and get this, he wants to be a Clipper -- for life. If that doesn't get him the
dough, I'm not sure what does.

Step 4: Bring back Bo Outlaw to keep it real.
The Clippers are loaded with talent, but what they lack is a veteran who knows how to win and doesn't mind
leading from the bench. Bo Outlaw is the perfect candidate. He was one of the few players who was actually upset
when he was handed his ticket out of town. He's a fan favorite who plays his heart out, does all the little things it
takes to win and can be a stabilizing influence in the locker room. A combination of Eric Piatkowski and Keyon
Dooling would get the trade done and relieve the Clips of two free agent worries next year.

That would give the Clippers this opening day roster:

Point guard: Baron Davis, Marko Jaric
Shooting guard: Quentin Richardson, Corey Maggette
Small forward: Darius Miles, Bo Outlaw, Tremaine Fowlkes
Power forward: Elton Brand, Melvin Ely, Harold Jamison
Center: Michael Olowokandi, Sean Rooks

Step 5: Give Donald Sterling some nitro.
Now, time for the math. The Clippers have a ton of cap space. They are on the books for roughly $28 million in guaranteed
salaries next season. If Olowokandi signs a max deal (six years starting at around $10.6 million), the Clippers' payroll jumps
only to a respectable $38 million next season. That's still a full $2 million under the cap.

However, if Brand signs a max extension, his $10 million a year goes on the books at the start of the 2003 season. If Davis gets
his, that's another $10 million. Maggette will command around $5 million a year.

That means at the start of the 2003 season, the Clippers' payroll almost doubles from $38 million this season to around $51
million. That's over the cap but just keeps them out of luxury-tax land.

Here's where things get nasty. If Miles gets his max extension the next summer, and if Richardson commands around $6 million
a year, the Clippers' payroll hits a whopping $70 million. Only three teams (Blazers, Mavericks and Knicks) have payrolls
exceeding $60 million a year.

Under the sign-everyone scenario, the Clippers would likely pay around $20 million in luxury-tax penalties, pushing their payroll
upwards of $90 million a year. And pigs just flew over the Staples Center.