The Clippers have had plenty of lost years over their history. Whether it’s due to horrible records or missed playoffs, there are a lot of forgotten Clippers teams. No forgotten Clippers squad was more impressive than the 2001-2002 Clips. Let’s take a look back at how the core came to be, and the accomplishments of that season.
From the Top
As far as their record goes, the 2001-2002 Clippers didn’t show much promise or talent based on just numbers. In essence, it seemed like a down year for them, with nothing much happening but missing the playoffs yet again. But, looks can be very deceiving.
The Clips went 39-43, and they sat at 5th place in the Pacific Division. It was Alvin Gentry’s second year running the bench after Chris Ford was fired due to two full seasons amounting to only 20 wins. Elgin Baylor was the man who put most of this particular team together, as well as all the Clippers teams since the 1986-1987 season. He was also the executive responsible for some of the most memorable Clippers players from this time period.
The Squad Notables
Some of the notables on the 2001-2002 squad were Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Jeff McInnis, Darius Miles, Quentin Richardson, and the ever famous Lamar Odom. Sean Rooks, Eric Piatkowski, and Michael Olowokandi were some of the other contributors for this team, with Piatkowski and Olowokandi being the more tenured players.
The young core for this team consisted of Maggette, Odom, Brand, Miles, and Richardson. With that much talent, the price of admission was worth it for any Clippers game that year, win or lose.
Baylor wanted to engineer a younger and faster team that could compete with age, and in order to do that, it took careful drafting and trading. He started by drafting Lamar Odom in 1999 with the fourth overall pick of the NBA Draft, and then followed it up by drafting Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson in the following year. He also traded for Corey Maggette by giving up a 2006 pick (Marcus Williams) to the Magic. And in 2001, they gave the Bulls the second overall pick in Tyson Chandler for 1999’s first overall pick in Elton Brand. In just the span of a year, he had acquired all of the young talents that he was hoping for.
As solid as the youth was leading up to the 2001-2002 season, it was clear from the season before that there was still a lot to be done to improve. There were games in the previous season where that young Clippers team was in serious need of some good veteran leadership. Whether it be clueless turnovers or horrible air balls, there was a lot of unclean play that cost them games. In order to have some veteran help on the court, Baylor also brought on a long-time center in Sean Rooks. The future was looking bright, and the Clippers were set to improve from last year with a projected 40 win season.
By the end, more inexperienced play and a lack of development did the Clips in, and they fell just short of their expectations. Small things like losing all of their overtime games and having very inconsistent offensive nights were what hurt the team the worst. They still ended up at 39-43 though, which was worlds better than what they had accomplished in almost a decade.
They even managed to beat their LA rivals in the Lakers during a close game in January, which was impressive considering the fact that they would go on to win the Larry O’ Brien that season. Another sweet accomplishment was a dish best served cold for Elton Brand. The Clippers season swept the Bulls that year, the team that gave up on Brand just two years after they drafted him first overall.
The End Of An Era
Unfortunately for this young and talented core, the end was already close. Elgin Baylor decided that he didn’t want to wait any longer for the squad to mature, and Darius Miles was the first to go via a trade with the Cavaliers. By 2004, only Brand and Maggette would still be sporting the red and blue. The pair would eventually manage to see the playoffs together in 2006, where they would fall one game short of the Western Conference Finals. That was the closest the Clippers have ever gotten to finding their way over that second-round hump, managing to win Game Six and almost Game Seven.
Out With the Old, In With the New
Looking back now, it was a blessing and a curse that Baylor gave up on that core. It would lead to his firing in 2008. After that, then head coach and executive Mike Dunleavy would select Blake Griffin as the first overall pick in 2009, and thus, Lob City was close to being born. Without Baylor giving up on that young squad, perhaps they would have meshed together to form a great team, and the Clips would have never gotten Griffin or any of the Lob City talents, but it was never meant to be.
Darius Miles went on to have a rocky life before getting back on track just recently, Elton Brand retired after 17 years in the NBA, Corey Maggette got stuck with the worst NBA team ever on the 2011-2012 Charlotte Bobcats, Quentin Richardson was part of a fantastic Phoenix Suns team in 2004-2005, and Lamar Odom won a championship and lots of fame with the Lakers in 2009.
Even if it was a fruitless era of Clippers basketball, every game was an opportunity to see raw talent shine together. It’s a now forgotten era due to Lob City and now Clamp City, but it’s worth taking a look at to see what might have been.
Statistics: basketball-reference.com Featured Image: Blake Anderson on Twitter and Slam Online