Talk about a franchise that can't catch a break. This time last year this team looked poised to make the jump from Playoff team to contender. However, that dream quickly dissipated as injuries and inconsistencies plagued the team all year and they missed the Playoffs outright after such a promising turn the year before.
And then it gets worse. Simply put, without Elton Brand on this team to stabilize both the offense and the defense, this team has no shot at doing anything this year, and 2007-2008 is going to be an entirely wasted season for the LA Clippers.
In the past such seasons wouldn't have been so unforgiving to the team. The Clippers were once a team consistently stocked with young talent that could use all the time on the court they could get in an attempt to develop their basketball instincts. Today, however, the team is comprised almost entirely of seasoned veterans who will in no way benefit from a season of irrelevance. Sure, there are a couple of youngsters who could profit from added playing time - Al Thorton, Josh Powell, Guillermo Diaz and Paul Davis - but the rest of the roster is littered with players who only have an interest in winning now.
So what is this team to do? Clearly they are going to have play through their 82-game schedule, hope that Brand can hurry back from his Achilles rupture sometime around January and make some sort of a push after that. That scenario seems shaky at best, though, when one considers that this team with Brand fully healthy couldn't muster more than 40 wins a season ago. With him missing the first months of the season it will take an unprecedented push (for this team) to crack into the Playoffs in the ultra-tough Western Conference.
The real question may be what becomes of this team going into next season. With Corey Maggette refusing to extend his contract recently it would stand to reason he is ready to move on from the only NBA club he's ever known. Sam Cassell, who battled injuries all last year and only played in 58 games, may finally call it a career at season's end. Shaun Livingston will be at a make-or-break point in his career with his rehab theoretically done on his surgically repaired knee and restricted free agency determining his future with the Clippers long-term. And it wouldn't even be a stretch to see coach Mike Dunleavy removed from the bench if this team doesn't make the post-season. As unfair as that sounds veteran coaches are often shown the door after injury-plagued seasons. It happened to Lenny Wilkins in Toronto, Stan Van Gundy in Miami and Mike Fratello in Memphis. With last season being a terrible underachievement largely blamed on Dunleavy, the team could be looking for a way out of their obligation to him.
Should all of those scenarios play out, not a guarantee by any stretch but also not an impossibility, then it would make for an uncomfortable situation for the team looking to retain Elton Brand, with him having an opt-out at season's end and a total end to his contract the following summer. Would he choose to stick around on a team that has only once, fleetingly, whiffed at the post-season? Who's to say? But it would be a reason for concern in Clipper-nation, that's for sure.
Now, there is also one unexplored possibility here, however unlikely it may seem. That possibility is that this team becomes united in their underdog status and finds a way to be gritty, ugly and ultra-competitive during the regular season and grit out a seventh or eighth spot in the Playoffs. If this team can stay healthy they have a lot of very competitive personalities on the roster that may find a way to take some teams by surprise and make something of this season. It's a long shot to be sure, but the NBA season is a funny thing sometimes and no fate, no matter how dismal it may appear, is ever written in stone.