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HILL: D.J.'s inherited a mess

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Randy Hill

Veteran columnist Randy Hill is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com.
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Inheriting a 19-39 team apparently wasn¿t handicap enough for L.A. interim head coach Dennis Johnson. During the meeting that preceded his first official performance on the hot seat, D.J. learned that Clipper resources are more questionable than usual. Forward (ankle) and swingman (stomach flu) were to be game-time decisions for Monday night¿s Staples Center date with the New Orleans . ¿We¿ll just go with the guys who are able to play,¿ Johnson said shortly after replacing Alvin Gentry, whose Monday firing was abetted by similar crises. Gentry, 89-133 since being hired before the 2000-2001 season, has been chaperoned by doom since injuries and contract-extension pouting wrecked the ¿ training camp. Power forward wore civilian threads for the entire exhibition run and his current availability has been erased by an ankle injury. Free-agent nominee was another training camp casualty whose recent knee procedure is expected to keep him an un-Clipper until season¿s end. Disappoint guard , acquired from Cleveland in a ballyhooed summer deal that jettisoned popular to Cleveland, is a free-agent in waiting who has failed to provide needed leadership and crunch-time chutzpah. This poor closing focus has enabled the Clips to boast a league-high 20 defeats with the caveat of holding a fourth-quarter lead. It cost Gentry, who leaves in the final year of a contract that was extended after a 31-51 finish during his first Clipper season. Despite assorted injury and social issues for Odom, last year¿s record was upgraded to 39-43. With the addition of Miller, who led the NBA in assists last season, the finally smelled like a playoff threat. But the aforementioned injuries and rampant immaturity from players who worried more about future earnings than current performance led to Gentry¿s dismissal. Rather than allowing Gentry ¿- who was 73-72 in parts of three seasons in Detroit and 15-21 during a Miami head-coaching stint -¿ to finish the season, sources say his removal was accelerated by a disagreement with management over the issue of Olowokandi¿s whereabouts during rehab. Johnson, whose slim opportunity for removing the interim title rests on owner Donald T. Sterling¿s seeming reluctance to pay market value for a hot-commodity coach, will play to his own strengths. ¿We have to make a visible change on how we approach the game,¿ Johnson said, ¿and that requires a harder and more aggressive effort on defense.¿ Well, D.J. certainly has the chops to command that. During a playing career that rates inclusion in the Official NBA Register¿s ¿All-Time Greatest Players¿ list, Johnson, 48, was named to the league¿s first all-defensive squad six times. He owns three NBA Championship rings, two achieved as a Boston Celtic (1984 and 1986), with a Finals MVP award attached to the 1979 title as shooting guard for the Seattle . ¿What I told the guys today,¿ Johnson said, ¿is that I played in this league before. And if I holler at you to play defense and you act like you don¿t hear me, I¿ll know because I did that, too. ¿If you don¿t understand me a second time, you¿ll hear the sound of horn going off when your replacement comes in.¿ Johnson, who arrived as a assistant late in the 1999-2000 season, was a assistant before going from No. 2 to No. 1 on the bench for the CBA franchise in LaCrosse, Wis. ¿I know what moving over that 12 inches on the bench is about,¿ he said, ¿because I did it in LaCrosse. Yeah, it was just the CBA, but either way, you still have to command the players¿ attention. ¿I¿m not a yeller and screamer, I¿m a prodder.¿ He¿s also a match-up guy. That seems like a swell thing to be as head coach in a league still in love with milking individual advantages. With that in mind, starting assignments during Johnson¿s 24-game interim run should be handed out based on which Clipper matches up best with a particular foe. ¿But tonight,¿ Johnson said, ¿those decisions may take care of themselves with the injuries.¿ Playing time also figures to include greater participation from Clipper rookies. Johnson said that rather than attempting to squeeze victories with a cautious veteran application, he¿ll solicit contributions from , and . ¿I know the team wants to see what these guys can do,¿ he said, ¿and if it¿s a situation where I¿m still around next season, I need to know what they can do as well.¿ Randy Hill can be reached at his e-mail address, rhill@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Celtics, Cavaliers, Clippers, Andre Miller, Michael Olowokandi, Elton Brand, Lamar Odom, Darius Miles, Marko Jaric, Chris Wilcox, Melvin Ely

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