#14 Los Angeles Clippers If Kandi isn't dandy, the club will continue to be the league's longest-running comedy routine

February 08, 1999

Anyone who coaches the Clippers automatically becomes more of a
straight man than Bud Abbott. Chris Ford, who assumed the post
when the NBA lockout ended, will soon discover that nearly every
statement he makes can be used as an opening to mock his team.
For instance, when Ford said during training camp that Los
Angeles's number 2 team was "still searching for an identity,"
it was tempting to quip that the Clippers should look for it in
the same place they've found it three of the last five years, at
the bottom of the Pacific Division. "This is the hand I've been
dealt," Ford said when his hiring was announced. Sure, and with
these cards, L.A. probably will do what it usually does--fold.

Ford does have what he hopes will be an ace in the hole in
7-foot center Michael Olowokandi, the first pick of the 1998
draft, but the Clippers shouldn't expect him to provide much of
a foundation right away. He missed the beginning of training
camp because--in a typical example of Clips luck--he had signed
a contract with an Italian team, Kinder Bologna, 48 hours before
the lockout was settled. Kinder Bologna granted Olowokandi an
early release because, team officials said, he didn't have the
impact they'd hoped for. He averaged 7.7 points and 5.8 rebounds
in six games in the Italian League. Olowokandi says Kinder
Bologna didn't use him properly, making him feel almost like an
afterthought on offense. "Usually when you're the top pick, they
build a team around you," he says. "I'd rather you live and die
by me. Don't ask me to be the savior and not give me the chance
to be the savior."

Olowokandi, who arrived late to training camp and missed last
weekend's exhibitions against the Lakers, will get every chance
to save the only marginally talented Clippers. He is expected to
start in the middle and be flanked by third-year power forward
Lorenzen Wright and fourth-year small forward Lamond Murray, Los
Angeles's leading scorer last season with a career-high
15.4-point average. The 6'11" Wright split his time between
center and forward and played well in stretches during his first
two seasons, but at press time Wright, who hadn't gotten the
contract extension he wanted, was seeking a trade. The Clippers'
more immediate problems are in the backcourt, where they need
more production than they got last season but will have to get
it from the same players. Darrick Martin (4.0 assists a game)
will start at the point, with Eric Piatkowski (11.3 points) at
shooting guard.

Ford would be wise to keep his goals modest--to tighten Los
Angeles's defense, which ranked 27th last season, and to jump
from last year's 17 wins into the 20s. The Clippers won't be in
the playoffs, but maybe they won't be in as many punch lines,


COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Fill it up Murray, L.A.'s top scorer last year, will need to pour it on even more.


Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats

SF Lamond Murray 71 15.4 ppg 6.1 rpg 1.49 spg 48.1 FG%
PF Lorenzen Wright 84 9.0 ppg 8.8 rpg 1.26 bpg 44.5 FG%
C Michael
Olowokandi(R)[+] 117 22.2 ppg 11.2 rpg 2.88 bpg 60.9 FG%
SG Eric Piatkowski 92 11.3 ppg 3.5 rpg 45.2 FG% 40.9 3FG%
PG Darrick Martin 155 10.3 ppg 4.0 apg 1.00 spg 37.7 FG%

Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 18

F Rodney Rogers 147 15.1 ppg 5.6 rpg 1.22 spg 45.6 FG%
F Maurice Taylor 229 11.5 ppg 4.2 rpg 0.7 apg 47.6 FG%
G James Robinson 241 7.7 ppg 1.9 apg 1.6 rpg 38.9 FG%

1997-98 Record: 17-65 (seventh in Pacific)
Coach: Chris Ford (first season with Clippers)

[+]New acquisition (R) Rookie (1997-98 statistics at
University of the Pacific)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)