By Jeff Pearlman
July 09, 2010

They were once candidates to get the King, just as Mike Gravel was once a presidential candidate, just as Casey James was once an American Idol candidate, just as Joaquín Andújar was once a Hall of Fame candidate.

The Los Angeles Clippers met with LeBron James because they had salary cap space and a couple of employees willing to fly (economy, no doubt) to Cleveland and spend a few minutes with a genuine, real-life NBA superstar.

But were they ever true contenders? Was there ever an actual chance of the King coming to be a second banana in La-La Land?

No. Of course not.

The Clippers are the Clippers. Which means, were James to have somehow been persuaded to sign with Donald Sterling's merry band of pratfallers, he would have ruptured a spleen. Or been caught in compromising photographs with three panda bears and the drummer from The Donnas. Or spontaneously combusted. Or all of the above.

But, for a moment, let's give the Clippers credit in that -- midway through the NBA's summer of insanity -- they made an actual move. As the Heat landed James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and the Knicks signed Amar'e Stoudemire and traded David Lee and the Celtics locked up Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and the Mavs retained Dirk Nowitzki and the Thunder extended Kevin Durant and the Bucks secured John Salmons and Drew Gooden, the Clippers ...

Drumroll, please.

Longer drumroll.

A little more.

... signed two marginal free agents and hired a coach.

But not just any coach.

In Vinny Del Negro, the Clippers made a bold statement that, regardless of league trends and the correlation between sound leadership and winning, they would stay true to themselves and to their Benoit Benjamin/Quintin Dailey/Claude Gregory roots. Del Negro is to the NBA coaching ranks what Vince Vaughn was to the recent We Are the World remake. He is allowed in the room, and even permitted to graze from the post-event buffet. But is he accepted? Can he really sing? Does he belong in the company of Lionel Richie and Tony Bennett?

Not quite.

Prior to the 2008-09 season, John Paxson, the Chicago Bulls' executive vice president (i.e.a man who should know much, much, much better), plucked Del Negro from Phoenix's front office to become his team's head coach. Del Negro had never held such a position, and it showed. Blessed with a above-average collection of talent and a blossoming superstar in Derrick Rose, Chicago repeatedly underachieved in the miserable Eastern Conference, twice squeaking into the playoffs with 41-41 marks before being bounced in the first round.

Under Del Negro, the Bulls played mediocre defense and undisciplined offense, took too many of bad shots and mangled countless in-bound passes. They went through lengthy stretches of apparent indifference, and players seemed to take turns ignoring their coach's timeout talks in favor of the lovable Luvabulls.

In other words: The Clippers have the perfect man for the job.

So how will this play out? As it always does in Clipper Land, predictably bad ...

Step One: The Del Negro-led Clippers go 31-51, but Billy Crystal attends nearly half the games. Del Negro chalks up the failure to Blake Griffin's ruptured spleen and Baron Davis' combustion.

Step Two: The Clippers win the draft lottery and select Gertavian Blake, a 6-foot-10 center from Jackson State. No other NBA teams have even heard of him.

Step Three: Blake breaks both his feet while attempting to walk across hot coals at his draft party back home in Jacksonville, Fla. The Clippers call this "a minor setback."

Step Four: The Blake-less Clippers open the 2011-12 season by going 2-13, and Sterling holds a press conference to announce Del Negro's dismissal. "I want to win and I want to win now," he says. "That's why I'm bringing in a true champion to coach the team. So without further delay, I'd like to introduce our new leader, the legendary P.J. Carlesimo ..."

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