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CLIPPERS UPDATE: THE JOKE ISN'T ON CLIPPERS' STERLING PENNY-PINCHING OWNER WAS RIGHT FOR LETTING `TALENT' WALK.

Byline: Rich Hammond Staff Writer

They are the running joke of professional sports, fodder for print columnists and late-night television talk show hosts intent on providing an example of ineptitude at its extreme.

For much of the past two decades, the Clippers, and in particular owner Donald Sterling, have received heaps of abuse for allowing high-priced free agents to leave via free agency. As the theory goes, Sterling is too cheap to pay what it takes to retain good players and build a successful franchise.

Now, as another free-agent negotiating period begins, with eight Clippers eligible for restricted or unrestricted free agency, the punch lines continue to roll, and pundits wait for Sterling to dismantle what was thought to be a team full of young talent.

But is Sterling's reputation deserved? What exactly have all those ``talented'' players amounted to after they left the Clippers? Not much, according to an examination of career statistics, which show that almost to a man, the players that left the team didn't do much in different uniforms.

From Danny Ferry to Ron Harper to Danny Manning to Maurice Taylor to Loy Vaught, the Clippers have habitually allowed their most talented and most popular players to escape to other teams, often times in the prime of their careers.

Yet how many All-Star teams has Brent Barry made with the Miami Heat? Have Bo Outlaw and Brian Skinner developed into dominant post players since leaving Los Angeles? No, so perhaps the blame shouldn't go to Sterling, but to general manager Elgin Baylor and the player personnel and scouting staff.

Maybe the problem is not Sterling's penny pinching, but Baylor's eye for talent.

Over the past 15 years, the Clippers have had 11 lottery selections in the NBA Draft, yet the only one of those to make a significant impact in the league was Antonio McDyess, who was traded before he played a game for the Clippers.

Beyond McDyess, the Clippers' draft history is filled with woe. Bo Kimble (1990), Lamond Murray (1994) and Lorenzen Wright (1996) are among the can't-miss, top-10 picks that missed and were quickly forgotten once their Clippers careers ended.

Baylor, touted as a ``shrewd judge and aggressive pursuer of talent'' by the Clippers' public relations staff, declined comment for this story, but his record since taking the job in 1986 speaks for itself.

The Clippers have finished better than .500 just once during Baylor's tenure, in 1991-92 with the legitimately shrewd Larry Brown as head coach, but Baylor is difficult to classify.

Is he smart for letting go of players that didn't amount to much otherwise, or does he deserve more blame for the poor draft picks and his inability to identify future stars?

The problem actually predates Baylor. The Clippers' founding father of ineptitude is Michael Cage, who was the best all-around player on some terrible teams in the late 1980s.

Baylor traded Cage to Seattle in 1988, and watched as Cage's scoring average dipped from 14.5 the previous season to 10.3 with the SuperSonics. Cage averaged 11.0 points and 8.8 rebounds in his four season with the Clippers, and 5.9 points and 7.2 rebounds in his next 11 seasons.

Then there's Danny Ferry, selected second in 1989 but never signed. The Clippers eventually traded him to Cleveland, and Ferry has been little more than a role player with career averages of 7.1 points, 2.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists.

Since then, Sterling's reputation has plummeted, no worse than in 1998, when the Clippers let Vaught walk, and two years later, when Taylor and Derek Anderson signed elsewhere.

Vaught turned into one of the biggest free-agent busts in NBA history after he signed a five-year, $23 million deal in 1998. Vaught lasted just three more seasons with the Pistons and Dallas Mavericks and averaged 2.8 points and 3.1 rebounds.

Anderson averaged 16.9 points in his only season with the Clippers (1999-2000) but averaged 13.6 points in the next three seasons.

Pundits thought the Clippers were letting a future star walk when Taylor signed with Houston, but in his three post-Clippers seasons, Taylor's averages have dropped in scoring (14.8 to 11.0) and rebounding (5.2 to 4.7), hardly worth his six-year, $48.7 million contract.

Now, another moment of truth has arrived. Michael Olowokandi, Cherokee Parks, Eric Piatkowski and Sean Rooks are unrestricted free agents, and the Clippers would have to match other teams' offers for Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Andre Miller and Lamar Odom.

Who is the franchise player of this group? Brand has All-Star potential, but Olowokandi is viewed as soft, Miller regressed last season despite showing great potential with Cleveland, and Odom's career has been shadowed by substance-abuse problems.

The fun will come in debating the fate of a player like Maggette, who could go either way. He averaged 16.8 points last season and seems on the verge of being a franchise player.

If Maggette stays, he could help pull the Clippers out of their perpetual doldrums. If he leaves, he could be the latest in a long list of ex-Clippers seemingly doomed to fail.

Rich Hammond, (818) 713-3611

rich.hammond(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

photo, box

Photo:

The Clippers face another moment of truth when the team decides the fate of Michael Olowokandi.

Lucy Nicholson/Associated Press

Box:

SINKING SHIP

A look at how some of the Clippers' top players fared with the team, and after they left. All numbers are per game.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Jul 1, 2003
Words:922
Previous Article:WHO WILL IT BE FOR LAKERS? HORRY LOSES JOB AS L.A. DIVES INTO A DEEP FREE-AGENT MARKET.
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