Friday, May 12, 2006

Maggette Rumors

Jim Gray reported during Game 2 of the Clippers-Nuggets series that it was basically a foregone conclusion that Corey would not be a Clipper next season. Yesterday on KSPN 710 Gary Miller and D'Marco Farr said the same thing.

Obviously I haven't spoken to Corey or Elgin or Dunleavy (though I did discuss this with my 10 year old son), but I just don't see it. It doesn't make any sense. I say Corey will be a Clipper next year, and he will either be a starter, or a serious candidate for Sixth Man of the Year (providing he stays healthy of course).

I understand that Corey prefers to start - everyone does. Look, the guy averaged 22 ppg last season, led the Clippers and was 13th in the NBA. People forget that. Obviously, when you're the 13th leading scorer in the league, you think of yourself as a starter. And I'm sure he was a little tweaked when they tried to trade him for Artest. No one likes getting shopped. (But seriously, how tweaked can you be about being offered for an all star? It's a business, and Artest is no picnic, but as a player he is a top ten talent.)

But I have seen no evidence of irreconcilable differences. Aside from one "I ain't no sixth man, man" quote way back in November, Corey has said and done all the right things when coming off the bench this season. When a couple of "Maggette is not happy" stories were written during the first round (based completely on innuendo and assumption), he went out of his way to say it wasn't true, and that he was happy to be winning playoff games and would do what the team asked him to do. Maybe he was lying, but the point it, it's the right lie to tell at that time, and no one is burning any bridges.

As for Dunleavy, he's never said anything disparaging about Corey. People read into the "For us it all starts with Defense" quotes, and obviously he loves QRoss, but that's just who he is, and you have to take him at his word. And it doesn't hurt that he's right - they became a playoff team when their defense got better. It's worth noting also that a couple seasons ago Corey was considered the Clippers best 'on-ball' defender. Corey gets lazy at times on defense, and he gets lost on his rotations, which makes Dunleavy crazy. But all of his career, Corey Maggette has tried to improve on the weak spots in his game, and I have no doubt that he will do the same in this case.

Even the 'benching' talk has been blown out of proportion. Corey played in 32 games during the regular season; he missed 50. He missed time in 3 large blocks due to 3 separate injuries. When you miss games, it takes a while to get up to 'game speed.' You can practice all you want, but until you've played in a few games, you won't have your jump shot. In November and December, Dunleavy brought him off the bench for his first 4 games back, then inserted him into the starting lineup (when Ross' back was hurting) for the next 9. In 18 games in March and early April, Corey started 4 of them, but remember that this was the first time the Dunleavy had Maggette, Radmanovich and Ross at the same time, so he was clearly trying to figure out the best way to distribute PT with his new personnel. Should Corey have been getting more minutes? Most Clippers fans would say yes, but overall, it was a nice problem to have.

As for the playoffs, Corey missed 2 weeks in April with a bad back, and came back in the final game of the season (a meaningless game, but useful as a tuneup for Corey). So game 2 against the Suns was only Corey's 8th game back from his latest injury. If you're Dunleavy, and your team has played well in 6 out of 7 playoff games, what are you going to do? You stick with something that is working, which means bringing Corey off the bench.

Until his dismal game 2 (in which the Clippers thankfully didn't need him), Corey was still the team's second leading scorer in the playoffs. (He dropped to third behind Cassell after game 2.) Second or third leading scorer on a team headed to the Western Conference finals, or leading scorer on a team sitting at home in May? Which would you rather be?

Finally, here's the real reason I certainly HOPE that Corey is a Clipper next year. Of the recent personnel decisions Baylor and Dunleavy have made (and Sterling has approved), re-signing Corey was the most shrewd. Re-signing Elton was a no-brainer - he's a maximum contract player, they signed him to a maximum contract deal. (They should never have risked the hurt feelings of a Miami offer sheet on that one, but it was a no-brainer to match it.) Corey was a little tougher call, and we have Utah's offer sheet to thank for establishing a price. But with 3 more seasons at a little more than $8M per, Corey Maggette is a bargain.

Even if they did trade him, what would the Clippers want in return? With Radmanovich, they've addressed the long range shooting shortage. They have plenty of size, and depth at every position. The one thing they lacked much of this season is an athletic wing who can run the floor, slash to the basket and get to the free throw line. You know, a Corey Maggette-type. To trade Corey this off-season for a draft pick, simply to save money to put into Kaman and Livingston, would be a pre-playoffs Clipper mentality it seems to me. I say you keep this group together one more season to see how far they can go.

Obviously, Cassell and Radmanovich are free agents, and whereas Donald has opened up the wallet some, we can't be sure how far he's willing to go. But this off-season is NOT the time to get timid. Corey and Elton are signed for 3 more years, Mobley for 4. Cassell has said he wants to play 2 more seasons here and be the backup for Livingston, which is a perfect solution, so make it happen. Offer Radmanovich the mid-level (it's my understanding that his Bird-rights were not tradeable after he signed with Seattle for the qualifying offer last year, but I could be wrong on that) and either he takes it or he doesn't.

You bring essentially this group back into camp next year, you look for the growth that you expect from Livingston and Kaman, and the team just gets better from stability, experience and maturation. You give Corey every chance to earn the starting job if he wants it (but maybe you try to convince him that a Sixth Man of the Year award is not a bad thing to strive for.) FYI, if I were Dunleavy, it's not necessarily QRoss who would be sitting in favor of Corey. Maybe you bring Mobley off the bench. How cool would it be to bring Mobley and Cassell off the bench late in the 1st Quarter and watch them light it up? Anyway, Ross needs to start, if only because he's the only guy on the team who doesn't need to score. The Clippers have plenty of scoring options; it's nice having someone out there concentrating on defense from the opening tap.

If the team doesn't improve in 06-07, you look at your options in the summer of 2007 when it's time to re-sign Kaman. But right now you've got a good thing going, and there's no reason to mess it up.