Back when Clipper fans were entertaining serious discussions about the gradations of success we could have if this-player or that-player were in the starting lineup, nobody generated more debate than Corey Maggette, the Clippers’ chiseled small forward.  Maggette was, and still is, undeniably the most gifted athlete on the roster.  He was, and still is, an efficient scorer.  And his shortcomings – defensive rotations and off-the-ball work – can’t, and couldn’t, be attributed to a lack of effort.   

With the injuries and everything else, a debate about whether Corey Maggette can be a winning player on a winning basketball team seems like a lost cause.   But I still get asked – mostly by friends who are eyeing the coming free agent market for their Eastern Conference teams – what I think of Maggette.  My responses are always laden with qualifiers and hedges, on one hands, and the others. The rejoinder: “I get all that, but would he be a good fit for [Fill in your 44-win second tier contender here]?”  

That depends on what you want.

It’s been a while since I considered Corey’s attributes on a wholesale level.  Given Corey’s December struggles [and I’ll chalk some of that up to aches & pains], I thought it might be interesting to give the meta-Corey question another examination.

A lot of Corey Maggette partisans will tell you that under the tutelage of a Coach Who Knows What He’s Doing, Corey Maggette would flourish into an all-NBA player.  The gifts are there; they just need to be harnessed or, more precisely, liberated.   Yeah, he’s not a great passer or defender, but his economy more than compensates.  

Last night, at the very outset of the game, the Clips run something they don’t very often:  A high S/R with Corey as the ballhandler.  When you see Corey dribbling the ball above the arc it dawns on you how infrequently it happens.  And very shortly, you see why.  Ryan Gomes is on Corey.  Chris Kaman – being chased by Michael Doleac -- cuts up from the block to set a screen on Gomes.  Off the pick, Doleac immediately traps Corey along the perimeter.  Corey tries to squirrel away to his left with a dribble; he decides to leave his feet and, in due course, has to unload the ball.  Falling wildly, he tries to heave it over Doleac to Kaman, but it’s an easy deflection for Minnesota’s big man.  Doleac gets it ahead to Gomes for an easy jam on the break.

My intention here is not to slam Corey.  By all accounts, he seems like a good guy; he clearly takes his job seriously and he never takes a night off.  He’s an incredibly forceful open court player and has a serious game off the dribble.  But there’s a reason that the only set the Clippers ever run for Corey is the little give ‘n’ go sweep along the arc with Cat or whomever.   That’s all Corey’s basketball instincts allow for in the halfcourt.  Good coaches run clever sets and need a certain kind of basketball player with the right kind of instincts to execute them. Corey Maggette doesn’t have those instincts.  He’s an id.   This deficiency doesn’t make him a bad basketball player.  It just makes him a limited one. 

With about 40 seconds left in the game and the Clippers leading by five and the Wolves with the ball, Brevin Knight strips a breaking Bassie Telfair with of the ball.  The ball ends up in Mobley’s hand.  The Clippers have numbers.  Corey waves his arms overhead.   When he believes that Mobley may not have spotted him, he does it again.

Do I think Corey has a selfish desire to fill up his stat line at the end of a game?  

No.  I think Corey Maggette’s first instinct is to help his team win this game.  And he believes – with sincerity and the best interests of the team at heart – that with a five-point lead and 38 seconds remaining, the best way for the Clippers to achieve that result would be an immediate Corey Maggette drive to the hoop.