NBA

ANALYSIS: Dunleavy nice, now focus on free agents

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LONG BEACH, Calif.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles replaced interim head coach Dennis Johnson with , a 10-year coaching veteran with six playoff appearances and three 50-win seasons to his credit. For purposes of comparison, the franchise has managed exactly six postseason appearances and no 50-win seasons during its entire 31-year existence. So why wasn¿t there more excitement among the team¿s representatives at the Summer Pro League in Long Beach? ¿For me it would have been good to keep D.J., because he was somebody I was used to,¿ said , before quickly reversing course. ¿But Dunleavy¿s a great coach, so we¿re glad to have him. He did great things where he was last.¿ ¿It really didn¿t matter to me,¿ said second-year forward . ¿We¿ve just got to go out there and play, no matter what kind of coach we have or if we had a coach or we didn¿t have a coach. So either way it goes, it was going to hopefully work out for the best.¿ Then Wilcox stumbled upon the real reason Dunleavy¿s hire isn¿t exactly inspiring revelry in Clipper-land, even if he is arguably the best coach to helm L.A.¿s other team since the Larry Brown World Tour left Southern California for points unknown back in 1993. ¿It¿s got to come from the team,¿ Wilcox said. ¿It can¿t just come from the coach.¿ And therein lies the problem. You¿ve got to have talent to win in the NBA, even if you¿re that other L.A. coach. And Dunleavy¿s greatest success as an NBA coach didn¿t come without some awfully good players under his command. Johnson and James Worthy were still pretty close to their primes when they helped Dunleavy reach the NBA Finals during his first stint in Los Angeles. He then got back to the Western Conference finals in 1999 and 2000 with a talented, albeit dysfunctional, bunch in Portland that included and . Now, there¿s the potential for that kind of team in Los Angeles. That is, if they¿re not too busy filling out change of address cards. and are both unrestricted free agents this season, and neither is likely to be wearing a uniform much past July 16, when teams can start getting names on dotted lines. Of greater concern to management are the restricted free agents. L.A. can match any offer to , , or . But if they¿re intent on escaping the clutches of Donald Sterling, all four could accept a one-year tender offer from the and explore the joys of unrestricted free agency after the 2003-04 season. During the press conference announcing Dunleavy¿s arrival, the new Clipper skipper (say that 10 times fast) said he was ¿assured by the organization that they¿re going to do the best they can to put us in a position to win.¿ Now I¿m sure Mike knows all too well that hasn¿t always been the case. , , , Ron Harper. All took the first available bus out of town. So what remains to be seen is whether the presence of a coach with a career record of 398-390 will be sufficient to convince the current crop of to stay put. ¿You know what, this is the NBA, anything can happen,¿ Ely said when asked if he thought bringing Dunleavy on board might help keep a few Clipper free agents in the fold. ¿I have no idea. I didn¿t think the were going to get the two guys they got. So anything can happen.¿ Anything? Like the making the postseason for the first time since the 1996-97 season? ¿This team is like inches away from being right there in the playoffs,¿ Ely said. ¿With the hiring of Dunleavy and hopefully they¿ll sign a couple of other players, we can do that.¿ They can. But make no mistake. Signing a couple of other players -- including a couple of their own -- is far more important than the hiring of Dunleavy.
Tagged: Warriors, Rockets, Clippers, Lakers, Nets, Magic, Trail Blazers, Andre Miller, Eric Piatkowski, Jeff McInnis, Elton Brand, Lamar Odom, Rasheed Wallace, Mike Dunleavy, Chris Wilcox, Melvin Ely, Maurice Taylor

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