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2006-2007 Clippers Preview

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This just in. The Clippers are frickin’ good.

No seriously. Good at basketball and stuff.

The Clippers have been in LA for 22 years. Before last season, they’d had one winning season. Zero playoff series wins. Too many lottery pick busts to count. Players fled the franchise like it was the Titanic. (Actually, it was worse than that) A cheapskate owner that made Scrooge seem like a charity worker.

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That was then. This is now.

47 wins and a conference semifinals appearance later, the Clippers are actually creating a buzz. Other teams are actually scared of their potential. Players are actually interested in playing here.

Some people think that the Clippers have shown glimpses in the past, that they’ll return to being the same old Clippers. Quite frankly, they’ve never had success like this before. They’ve never had a team with this much talent. They’ve never had a fan base this excited. They’ve never had an owner committed to spending.

It’s a new era in Clipperland. And every step they take this year will be breaking new ground. There’s no reason to think that they won’t be able to keep it up.

Elton Brand is the guy. He doesn’t possess the Hollywood flash, the signature high-wire act, or the perpetual quote machine. But he always produces. Night in and night out, he brings his 20 and 10 (or 25 and 10 now) without a lot of fanfare. And as he showed against Phoenix, he doesn’t shrink from the moment (30.9 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 3.1 bpg). A tenacious rebounder, a solid midrange game, and perhaps most importantly, a solid citizen in the locker room and off the court. He’s become the cornerstone of the franchise. Thanks Chicago, for the gift. Hope you liked Tyson Chandler.

Sam Cassell is the soul. While his game may be past its prime, his mouth is still in tip-top shape. It was his confidence and swagger that had been long missing in the Clipper franchise, and it was his offseason re-signing that symbolized that change in mentality. Even though, at 37, he will probably not produce numbers that justify his $13 million contract, he will continue to model the winning mindset for the team that is still learning. He'll get plenty of minutes and opportunities to take his trademark clutch jumpers, but he'll also be mentoring the prodigy Shawn Livingston, who is poised to take lead the Clippers for the next decade.

Chris Kaman is the passion. Look at the dude's hair, for crying out loud. He's a crazy man that brings intensity on the court. But he's got the game to match. A skilled low-post player and solid on the glass, he helps take the pressure off of EB by giving the Clips another inside threat on both sides of the ball. His upcoming free agency could be an issue since Donald Sterling seems a little reluctant to pay him market value, but at least the sides are talking - expect him to have a breakout year since he's got $50 million-plus waiting for him. We'll call him the anti-Olowokandi.

Corey Maggette and Cuttino Mobley are the juice. Those boys can flat out fill it. Mobley's still probably going to be starting, and he's got the long-range game that opens up the court. Maggette will most likely have to settle for sixth man status, but he gets to the line at an alarming rate. No team in the league has a 20 ppg scorer coming off the bench. No team has so many options to get buckets at the end of games. The only question is whether there's enough shots for everyone.

Shawn Livingston is the hope. Only two years out of high school, the kid has shown unbelievable skills as a passer and playmaker, but was also maddeningly inconsistent, as is to be expected from a 20-year old. He's got the potential to be a superstar if he can stay healthy and focused. If he proves to be a worthy successor to Cassell, he gives Coach Dunleavy the ability to throw out some incredibly versatile lineups to give other teams matchup fits. And he gives the Clipper faithful reason to believe the team can be a contender for years to come.

Quinton Ross is the glue. The one guy that can straight up clamp down on D. He frustrated 'Melo into a terrible series in the first round. He does the dirty work that allows the rest of the studs to score their points, which propelled the Clippers to top 5 in FG % defense. James Singleton, Lamond Murray, Aaron Williams, Daniel Ewing, and Zeljko Rebraca are also going to be glue guys, since they will be the ones to give the stars a spell in their limited minutes.

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Tim Thomas is the wildcard. Always known as an underperformer, a guy with a ton of tools but little to show for it in the past, he earned a nice 4-year deal after killing the Clippers last year in the playoffs with this clutch 3-point shooting, solid defense, and scoring from the post. If he shows that he wasn't just a contract player, he adds another big body and weapon to complement EB and Kaman.

Mike Dunleavy is the guy, for now. No contract extension for the senior Dunleavy, so he's going to have to prove his worth by molding this team into a championship contender. He's had success other places he's been, but he's never taken a team over the top. Some questioned his strategies in the playoffs last year - if he can't do it with this nucleus, Sterling will need to find someone who can.

The Clippers have all the ingredients now: an incredibly talented and versatile roster with stars and role players; a winning attitude; playoff experience; a solid coach in Dunleavy; and an open-walleted owner in Sterling. Will this recipe come together in the end? If the team can avoid major injuries and respond to the pressure of having real expectations for the first time, there's a good chance we could see a sea of red in Staples come June. The Red Sox and White Sox have done it in baseball, why not the Clippers?

AP photo by Roy Dabner