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Clippers Midseason Report, TRL Style (part 2)

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In case you missed the first half of the Clippers’ midseason report, click here. In case you missed the first half of the Clippers’ season, read on. Because the Clips are in danger of making last season a one-year anomaly if they don’t turn up their play, and because LAist loves music, here’s a few more key themes of the season, accompanied by some notable one-hit wonders and videos.

“I want money, lots and lots of money / I want the pie in the sky / I want money, lots and lots of money / So don’t be asking me why / I wanna be rich”
– Calloway, “I Wanna Be Rich” (1990)

Inspired by: the three men who fleeced Donald Sterling out of $98.5 million worth of contracts

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It has been well documented how Donald Sterling has historically maintained a highly thrifty approach to running the Clippers, generating significant profits without any concern about putting together a winning franchise. But after signing key players to lucrative, long-term deals over the last four seasons, Sterling has exhibited a change in philosophy, contributing to last season’s breakthrough. Thus, the contracts extended to Chris Kaman (5 years/$52.5 million), Tim Thomas (4 years/$24 million), and coach Mike Dunleavy (4 years/$22 million) were thought to solidify the foundation for a bright future for the Clips. So far, the Donald hasn’t gotten much return on his investment.

Kaman's improvement into a bonafide second low-post threat and rebounder during last season was one of the key ingredients to the Clippers' success. Thus, it was a high priority to make sure he didn't escape via free agency once his contract expired at the end of this season. However, Kaman struggled out of the gate with a hamstring injury during preseason and also suffered a sprained ankle, causing him to miss four games in November. Watching him repeatedly miss shots from close range or turn the ball over was even more painful than sitting through The Santa Clause 3, and his rebounding and defense have been equally poor. While Kaman's play has improved somewhat since the start of the new year and the switch back to the old leather ball, Clipper Nation wonders whether he is actually capable of contributing anything more than 11 points and 8 rebounds a game to take some of the pressure off of Elton Brand. He's getting paid a lot of money to be a stiff.

Whereas a long-term deal for Kaman seemed justifiable because of his youth and demonstrated improvement each year, Thomas suckered the Clippers into a fat contract solely on the basis of one solid month of basketball, in which his clutch outside shooting, low-post scoring, and surprising interior defense were major factors in knocking out both LA teams of the playoffs. Never mind the fact that the Bulls paid him $14 million to not play for them last year because he was useless. Or that he'd been through six teams over nine seasons, and was notorious for being a paycheck player - someone who only tried when the Benjamins were on the line. Long considered ultra-talented but lazy and indifferent, Thomas has pretty much lived down to his reputation. He's shooting a career low 40.9% from the field, averaging less than 10 points per game for the first time since his second year, and exhibiting his usual lackluster effort on the glass. Thomas was supposed to give the Clippers a second outside presence (replacing Vlad Radmanovic) that could open up the court for Brand and allow for drive and dish opportunities; instead, teams are inviting him to shoot, and he's thrown up so many bricks that he probably belongs with Ty Pennington on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Absolutely terrible signing.

As far as Dunleavy is concerned, his tactical shortcomings were magnified in the playoffs last season. Under the circumstances, there probably aren't any better coaches available. But he's failed to get the team to play hard every night and doesn't seem to have a good pulse on how to put his players in the best position to win.

"'Cause when it comes to playing basketball / I'm always last to be picked / And in some cases never picked at all ... I wish I was a little bit taller / I wish I was a baller / I wish I had a girl who looked good I would call her"
- Skee-Lo, "I Wish" (1995)

Inspired by: the Clippers' wish for someone, anyone that can shoot

The Clippers are last in the league (by far) with only 2.9 made three-point shots per game, 9.2 attempts, and 31.4%. This isn't shocking, considering they were also last in makes and attempts last year, though their percentage was a bit higher at 34.4%, which ranked 21st. Whereas the Phoenix Suns average 39.9% as a team from long distance, the Clippers don't have a single shooter above that mark - Cuttino Mobley is the most "accurate" shooter at 39.8%. Tim Thomas is shooting like 10% (OK, it's actually 35.3%, whatever, he's horrible).

The problem is when you have five guys on a court, none of whom are a threat to score from outside of 17 feet, the defense can just collapse inside and dare you to shoot. This prevents Elton Brand from getting clean looks on the low block, enables opposing guards to drop down and swipe the ball from a clumsy Chris Kaman, and goads penetrators like Shaun Livingston and Corey Maggette into taking numerous charges from the help defender. Without the ability to properly space the floor, the Clippers' execution must be precise in order to score consistently. Furthermore, the lack of a 3-ball makes comebacks considerably more difficult. And as we've seen, the Clips have been behind quite often this year.

"Once I ran to you / Now I'll run from you / This tainted love you've given / I give you all a boy could give you / Take my tears and that's not nearly all / Oh, tainted love"
- Soft Cell, "Tainted Love" (1982)

Inspired by: the love-hate relationship that is the ongoing Corey Maggette saga

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Maggette is the longest current tenured Clipper, and one of Sterling's favorites, but he's been on the trading block all year because of his longstanding personal feud with Dunleavy. Maggette has requested to go someplace where he will be more appreciated and utilized more to his liking. Though he's not thrilled about his role as the sixth man, it hasn't been reflected in his play - Maggette has been one of the few consistent members of the team this year. While his outside shot is nonexistent, his ability to generate his own offense and get to the line has provided a much needed spark, particularly with Brand not being as reliable as in past seasons.

Still, his unresolved situation is not helping the team find its identity and play as a unit. Corey's athleticism and manageable contract are particularly appealing to many teams, but the Clippers need to get a solid player in return to fill the many holes that he will leave behind. Thus, his status in limbo may continue to be a distraction to the team all the way up to the February 22 trade deadline, and it's even possible that he may not get traded at all, which would drag out an already awkward situation. A clean break would be best for all parties, but breakups don't always work out that way.

"I'm too sexy for my shirt / Too sexy for my shirt / So sexy it hurts"
- Right Said Fred, "I'm Too Sexy" (1992)

Inspired by: Chris Kaman's haircut

From the Hulkamania mullet to a normal cut (click here for the before and after), though it was apparently not a fashion statement but rather a mistake by the stylist.

"There's been so many things that's held us down / But now it looks like things are finally comin' around / I know we've got a long, long way to go / And where we'll end up, I don't know / But we won't let nothing hold us back / We gonna get ourselves together / We gonna polish up our act ... Ain't no stopping us now / We're on the move / Ain't no stopping us now / We've got the groove"
- McFadden and Whitehead, "Ain't No Stopping Us Now" (1979)

Inspired by: the Clippers' prospects at making a second-half playoff run

Because the core of the team is fundamentally unchanged from last season, we know that the Clippers have it in them to put a nice run of good basketball together, assuming they can stay healthy. Last season, the Clips won two-thirds of their home games and half of their road games. If they can play at that pace the rest of the way, that would extrapolate out to 44 wins, which was good enough for #8 in the West last year. Thus, in order to avoid being roadkill for the Mavs or Suns in the first round, they'll have to play lights out the rest of the way and hope that the teams far ahead of them in the standings like the Lakers, Rockets, and Nuggets hit some major rough patches. Realistically, the Clips will likely be battling the T-wolves and possibly the Warriors for the last spot in the ridiculously deep West.

Some may argue that with a strong draft class this year, it may be better for the Clippers to miss the playoffs and get a lottery pick than get schooled by a far superior team in the first round. But it would be a huge statement for the franchise if they show some heart and secure a back-to-back playoff berth, something that they've only done once in 30 years. It would signify that while title contention may still be a ways away, the Clips aren't just a flash in the pan, a one-hit wonder destined for permanent obscurity.

AP photo by Kevork Djansezian