The citizenry of Clipper Naçion collectively subscribes to a popular meme that the 2006-2007 Clipper team is a squad of inordinately talented pieces that has monumentally underachieved.  As it does when teams begin to lose, scapegoatism has taken hold and, depending on the day, a variety of disproportionate theories can be heard: It's entirely Dunleavy's fault.  Corey Maggette's defense.  Quinton Ross' presence in the offense.  Chris Kaman's turnovers.  Shaun Livingston's immaturity.  Elton Brand's dilettantism.  Etc. Etc. 

At the start of the season, there were those in the minority who countered that popular enthusiasm for the Clips should be tempered by certain realities of their personnel.  Yes, the team had some nice pieces, but any ideas that the Clippers were a contender was pie-in-the-sky romanticism for a team with an infectious fairytale back story, said the skeptics.  Clipperblog confesses to being part of that giddy troop of optimists.  Though it dislikes parlor game predictions, I picked the team to win 50 games and return to the Conference Semifinals as a (4) (5) seed with San Antonio, Phoenix, and Dallas, with a similar outcome --- a hard-fought series loss to a superior, better-seasoned opponent.  I'm not going to backtrack on that prediction and tell you it was a blind act of patriotism.  Sure, Clipperblog may have been wearing a fabulous pair of Paul Smith rose-colored lenses, but there was good reason to believe that only Cassell and Tim Thomas would not replicate their numbers of last season, and that the growth of players like Kaman and Livingston --- along with a healthy Maggette --- would compensate for any dropoffs.

In looking at the team today, I wonder about this notion that the Clippers are a team awash in talent.  Are they?  Do the Clippers honestly have the kind of shot-creating personnel, the offensive repertoire, the gunnery from the outside to compete with the better teams in the league? 

Nothing like the past two months have shaken my certitude as a sports fan.  A few of the things I've learned?  The value of Sam Cassell.  And I'm not talking about the veteran leadership piece either, though I don't want to minimize the chutzpah factor.  I'm talking about the quantifiables, that this man has the ability to score in the transition.  The power of the PUJIT which, admittedly, I treated somewhat as a novelty, can't be understated.  One of the features of opposing defenses I've noticed since Cassell's absence --- and I went back and watched part of that wretched Toronto game this morning --- is the opponent's m.o. of sagging back against the Clips even in transition.  With Cassell bringing the ball up, teams don't set themselves down low against the Clips.  They hedge; they operate in a state of defensive confusion; they play back on their heels.  For whatever reason, Livingston hasn't been able to command that kind of freneticism, even though we know him to be an agile, deceptive point guard with great eyes for the floor.  Though he doesn't have much ability to get himself open by himself, Cassell and Brand played a truly efficient two-man game.  It was quite admirable, actually, because neither is today's zeitgeist NBA athlete.  But by early March, these two had a preternatural ability to generate shots for each other on the strong side.  How many times did I write about the Cassell-Brand Side Screen/Roll last spring?  How many beautiful stretches of basketball did we witness centered around that simple, perfect creation?  What I've learned during this humbling, soul-crushing season is that an offensive morsel like that - simple as it seems - isn't something that can be replicated.  It's more art than science, and Cassell is the master.

No living person has written more about Corey Maggette's veritable strengths and weaknesses as a professional basketball player than Clipperblog has.  I'm not interested in revisiting those arguments, if for no other reason than it's boring.  If you want to read them again, you can find there here and somewhere in here.  To the general question of whether this team can win with Maggette as its number two scoring option, Mike Dunleavy has clearly answered it.  I generally agree with him because I don't think Corey Maggette is ever going to be a focal point of a championship-caliber basketball team.  And if Corey can't hit from 18 feet, then I don't even know if there's a reasonable, empirical argument.  Remember that Corey has historically hit about a 3FG a game over his career.  He's 4-40 4-34 this season.  But that really isn't the point anymore, is it?  If Dunleavy finds that Corey isn't working, then he needs to make that move for Mo Peterson, a guy who can shoot the three, move off the ball, can get himself and others open for perimeter shots...and plays some solid, if un-all-NBA, defense, to boot.  Would Peterson solve the Clippers problems?  No.  But he would stabilize an offense that becomes inert when teams overload against Elton Brand, and he would give Dunleavy the flexibility to let Quinton Ross play at the 2 against an opposing superstar for 25 minutes a night without giving up too much offense, something Dunleavy can't do all that effectively with Cuttino Mobley. 

Cat Mobley's deficiencies have boldly come to surface this weekend because he's knicked up, but the truth about Cat is that you can't run a winning offense against superior teams with Mobley as your featured wing player.  Supporters --- and Clipperblog considers himself one --- point to Mobley's nice-looking %s this season, and those numbers don't lie.  But what they don't tell you is that, while Mobley's hitting at a nice clip, he doesn't have the capacity to get himself open enough for that number to mean much.  It's not for a lack of trying, because Cat is a lunch-bucket, yeoman of a two-guard, a Randy Whitman/Junior Bridgeman kind of player who plays a very competent brand of basketball.  Cat's got some nice attributes, but his talent is finite.  He does a lot nice things for you on the offensive end, but at the end of the day, a 50-win team --- unless it's 1980-2000 --- has a wing player that can either create or go insane as a spot-up shooter.  Sometimes they have one of each [Dallas] and sometimes they have one guy who can do both [Washington].  And sometimes they have two guys who can do a little of each and give up absolutely nothing defensively [Detroit].  And, unlike Dallas, who has a power forward who can play on the wing, the Clippers bigs are pure bigs.  While Dunleavy and Baylor have done a nice job taking care of the northern and southern spots on the personnel map, they've basically designed a team with no superlative east and west players, nothing on the wing that can propel a team into any sort of dynamic attack. I like Maggette only a little bit more than Dunleavy does. We agree that Corey isn't the answer.  But, for crying out loud, Coach, since that guy isn't the answer, show us someone who is, because you [and I don't mean, you, Coach; I mean everyone except Jerry Sloan] cannot win important basketball games in the NBA without a swingman who can score at will.

Underachievement suggests an underutilization of assets.  But is that what's really going on here?