Clippers want must-see player

SHAWN CLARKE, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 1:33 PM ET

Rapper Young Jeezy once boasted that mentioning his name would bring an entire city out.

That same drawing power can be heralded by LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and a just handful of other players in the NBA.

Unfortunately the "other" team in Hollywood, the Los Angeles Clippers, hasn't had the luxury of calling a true superstar player one of its own. Norm Nixon, Marques Johnson and Derek Smith were respectable in their time in LA, as were Danny Manning, Ron Harper, Elton Brand and Corey Maggette. But none were necessarily magnets for fans.

In order for the Clippers to step out of the shadows of the title-laden Lakers, they're going to have to do better than running out the current crop of high-level performers like Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon and Baron Davis. I'm not saying those players will be the death of another Clippers' season in 2010-11, but president Andy Roeser and assistant GM Neil Olshey could have pulled some strings via trade before the draft.

Let's not forget the two reached out to -- and reached for -- James before the multi-talented personality decided to take his talents to South Beach. The Clippers should have known they had a snowball's chance in the Staples Center parking lot to land the coveted free agent, and now they're left with basically the same roster as before. The team was honored to have been invited to meet with James and the main selling point was its "extraordinary nucleus of players."

If the Clippers are alluding to the core of players that competed to a 29-53 record a year ago, than I'm missing something here. Why in the world would James have ever wanted to perhaps finish his career in NBA purgatory? To me it's almost comparable to a Detroit Lions representative trying to persuade Peyton Manning or Tom Brady to play out their 2010 contract and head to Motown for a chance of winning three or four games over the next few years.

Not a chance.

Instead of pipe-dreaming over James, I would have tried to package a player or two and the Clippers' eighth overall pick in last month's NBA Draft for a veteran presence, or at least someone with credibility. Instead, Los Angeles brought back Craig Smith, added Willie Warren, Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye, and selected Al-Farouq Aminu with the No. 8 pick. It later snagged Eric Bledsoe with the 18th overall selection.

To me that spells another 20-to-30 win campaign, but don't tell that to new head coach Vinny Del Negro. Del Negro, who was able to ignore heat from upper management in Chicago and lead the Bulls to the playoffs, said in his introductory press conference that he's looking forward and feels the snake-bitten franchise is headed "in a different direction right now."

What direction are you alluding to, Mr. Del Negro? The Clippers were 28 games out of first place in the Pacific Division in 2009-10 and were lucky to finish third in the standings with Golden State and Sacramento doing slightly worse. I guess the only direction is up when your team finishes 8-33 on the road and 15-37 in conference play.

Del Negro noted that coaching the Clippers was the right opportunity for him and his family, and was able to beat out Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey for the job. Olshey commented on how Del Negro had solutions, and was able to overcome obstacles in Chicago en route to postseason appearances. Am I wrong here when I say that having Derrick Rose, arguably one of the best point guards in the game, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng would make drawing up X's and O's easier on any head coach? The larger perception was that the Bulls underachieved under Del Negro.

Let's see how the new coach does with a bunch of players only some in the City of Angels, and Malcolm in the Middle star Frankie Muniz, could identify.

Blake Griffin, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, missed his rookie season after undergoing knee surgery and could be the name Clippers brass and fans will continue to rest their hopes on. Several pundits pegged Portland top pick Greg Oden -- mired in a similar injury-laden situation -- to do the same a few years ago and he's been a bust so far. Griffin seems to have more upside than Oden with his thick, muscular physique and just needs to develop an outside game.

But, Griffin also has to stay healthy, and has the added pressure of being counted on as the face of the organization. There's little to suggest that he's ready for that role.

With several other high Clippers draft picks washing out of the league in recent years, a lot of hope is resting on the repaired knee of the young power forward. Griffin's not going to garner the type of publicity James, Bryant or Howard can, but he'll make a Clippers team that much better with a serviceable supporting cast in Davis, Gordon and Kaman. Griffin said before the 2010 draft that he'd learned how to be patient with his rehab and is eager to hit the hardwood again. In my opinion, that should excite his teammates and coaching staff more than any of the changes the Clips have made this offseason.

Whether Griffin succeeds or fails, for a Clippers fan base that annually eyes a better tomorrow, the time is now for a big-time player to start filling the seats that have been too often vacant when the home team is wearing red and royal blue, as opposed to purple and gold.


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