There’s a lot to discuss, though little of it sparks great passion.  The 2007-2008 Clippers are a lottery team – and not an especially likeable one.   As a Clippers devotee, the best you can hope for is a series of small victories: The maturation of Chris Kaman, the emergence of Al Thornton, the spontaneous combustion of Ruben Patterson.  

Fundamentally speaking, though, the Clippers’ 82-game record will be determined on the floor.  I thought it would be instructive, if masochistic, to take a look at some of the probable -- and improbable -- lineups.

THE STARTERS: Cassell-Mobley-Maggette-Thomas-Kaman
Barring injury, it’s safe to assume that this will be the Clippers’ starting lineup when they take the floor in Oakland on November 2.  What’s going to be most interesting to observe is how the offense will be reformulated with Kaman as the focal point on the block.  I tend to be more bullish on Kaman than most Clipper fans and still believe he has the footwork, strength, and touch to be a forceful low post player.  If it’s going to happen, then it’ll be with Cassell working with him on the strong side.

Corey Maggette made incredible strides toward the end of last season focusing his game in the halfcourt.  It was a pretty simple adjustment: At some point in late winter, Corey began to recognize that he draws a help defender every time he holds the ball on the wing or starts a dribble-drive into the paint.  In turn, this opens up opportunities elsewhere on the floor – either up top, where a guard has moved over to the wing to pick him up before he starts his drive, or from down low where a post defender has slid up to halt Corey’s patented drive.  Corey will never be a great passer, but if he keeps his eyes open and times it right, he can manufacture a half-dozen open shots for teammates…and, you know, he might just get the ball back if he moves off the pass.  This was the single most important factor in the Clippers’ resurgence before the great collapse last April.

Mobley and Thomas have to drill shots, if only to open things up for Kaman down low.  Kaman still needs a lot of work in recognizing double-teams, and the best way to mitigate that problem is to present him with as few double-teams as possible.  

STARTING THE SECOND QUARTER: Knight-Mobley/Ross-Maggette/Ross-Patterson-Powell
Like 85% of the Clippers’ roster, Ruben Patterson is a small forward, to the extent that he has any natural position.  Milwaukee played him quite a bit at the PF in their small lineup – and he put up the most efficient offensive numbers of his career. The truth is that, with possible exception of some Eastern Conference teams…and San Antonio…and Houston…and maybe Portland…stucturalism is dead in the L.   Dunleavy isn’t a coach who is naturally inclined toward positional parity, but he demonstrated a willingness last year to experiment, playing Elton at center and featuring multiple guards on the floor simultaneously.   When you have a bunch of guards on your roster who can post – and essentially function as “bigs” – you can do that.  Livingston’s absence leaves somewhat of a void, but Patterson can muscle position near the basket, and Mobley excels at posting opposing guards.  It’s a shame there aren’t shooters on this team that Mobley and the post guys can kick it out to.  Not having them makes running an offense that much more difficult.  

The good news is that the addition of Knight and Patterson make the Clippers a strong defensive team.  Powell is scrappy, though I can’t say for certain if he has the court awareness yet to qualify as a superlative defensive player.  Though this lineup is small, it should be able to hold its own defensively.  Offensively, I have no idea what the second team can run in the halfcourt.  No idea.  The Clips desperately need Corey to play 40 minutes a night, and hit that 20-footer the way he did down the stretch last season.  

THE RUN ‘N’ GUN:  Jordan-Maggette-Thorton-Korolev-Thomas

In regards to Jordan, this is wishful thinking, but the Clippers haven’t had a point who can run the break in a long while and I love the prospect of The Magician taking the court with Maggette and Al Thornton on the wings.  You’re going to love Thornton’s open floor game.  He’s explosive and can fly by defenders without turning the ball over.  Korolev remains the team’s most mysterious player, but it’s worth remembering that he was regarded as a “point forward” in pre-draft scouting reports back in 2005.  If he can shoot with some accuracy and defend as well as observers say he can, then he could potentially fill a large part of the vacuum at the 4.   Nobody’s going to mistake Korolev and Thomas as twin towers…or twin anythings…but there are worse things to have than a couple of 6’ 10” shooters on the floor together in a high-pace game.   

With Elton out, Mike Dunleavy has to calculate how often he wants to open up the floor.  It’s not something he’s generally inclined to do, but if the organization is going to draft the likes of Thornton, make peace with Maggette, and bring Korolev back, then it only makes sense to oil the tracks, particularly if you have solid transitional defenders, which the Clippers do.

THE STOPPERS:  Knight-Ross-Patterson-Powell-Kaman

Positional flexibility on the defensive end is invaluable, and we’ve spoken about Patterson's   ability to guard bigger players.  Ross remains one of the better wing and perimeter defenders in the conference.  Despite Kaman’s struggles last season, he’s graduated into a very skilled shot blocker and his quick feet have made him a mobile defender who can help on a dime, both in transition and in plugging the lane against penetration.  I’m not ready to anoint him NBA All-Defense, but you don’t rank 10th in the league defensively if your big man isn’t doing something right.  While I tend to think that gambling point guards who rack up a lot of steals are overrated defensively, Brevin Knight has demonstrated a headiness to his defensive game over the course of his career that mitigates his affliction as the team’s only dwarf.  

GOING BIG:  Cassell-Maggette-Powell/Thomas-Kaman-Davis

We’ve discussed the possibility that Chris Kaman is secretly a power forward and, when the game demands it, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mike Dunleavy play Kaman and Paul Davis on the floor together.  Kaman’s mobility allows for such a tandum and if you add 6’ 10” Tim Thomas – who fundamentally is a ‘3’ – that’s a lot of size on the floor at once.  I’ve never been sold on Maggette at the SG position because he has trouble on the perimeter defensively against smaller scorers, but if he can continue to improve his floor sense in the half court, it’s not a bad option – though Mobley functions quite well in a big man scheme.  

I haven’t addressed the Ruben Patterson question and, needless to say, I’m not happy about his addition to the roster, whatever he might bring to the table defensively.  This is one of the reasons that I approach my fandom from the perspective of a New Critic.  It’s all I can do to rationalize rooting for a guy who, by his own legal admission, tried to rape his children’s nanny, assaulted his wife, and broke the jaw of a man who might have scratched his car.  Clipper fans have traditionally been able to take solace in the fact that the team was superior in human character to the team across the way.  With the acquisition of Patterson, the front office has denied us that privilege.  While I don’t ever want to wish harm upon any living creature, if a painless stress fracture were to fall upon Ruben Patterson and prevent him from ever suiting up for a Clipper regular season game, that wouldn’t be the worst thing imaginable.