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By Lorenzo Tanos
Prior to 2011-12, the Los Angeles Clippers were a running joke, a team that superstars would strive to get away from once their contracts came up or once the opportunity for a trade came along. Now they're the 2010s' answer to the Sacramento Kings of about a decade ago – mired in a bitter feud with the Los Angeles Lakers, never mind the latter team's current levels of dysfunction. So here they are – one-time NBA punchlines turned Western Conference contenders, the L.A. Clippers.
1. True or False – The Buffalo Braves were the last NBA team to be located in Western New York.
True. Prior to the Braves, the Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings – or is that Seattle Supersonics, reloaded?) and the Syracuse Nationals (now the Philadelphia 76ers) represented the Western part of New York state.
2. Who was the Buffalo Braves' first-ever All-Star Game selection?
Bob Kauffman was a perfect example of how expansion could salvage one's career. A product of NAIA school Guilford College (same school that produced World B. Free and M.L. Carr, FYI), Kauffman was picked third overall in 1968 after putting up monster numbers (over 24 ppg and 23 rpg) for the Quakers. Yet, he was looking like a draft bust when he was picked by Buffalo in the 1970 expansion draft. In his first three seasons with the Braves, Kauffman played in three All-Star games, standing out as a very skillful passer for a big man. Unfortunately, he was riding the bench right after his All-Star run, largely due to the emergence of another, much more talented Bob (McAdoo) who also played the four and five spots.
3. True or False – Randy Smith, NBA iron man and hometown hero for the Buffalo Braves, was not drafted in the first four rounds of the 1971 NBA Draft.
False. He was one of those players who got drafted as a hometown afterthought, but Randy Smith (7th round, 104th overall) was arguably the biggest steal in the 1971 NBA Draft. (That doesn't count 117th overall Artis Gilmore, whose draft stock "dropped" due to his existing ABA commitment.) A high-leaping and speedy guard who made the All-NBA Second Team in 1975-76, Smith played all regular season games from 1971 to 1982, most of those years spent with the Braves, then the San Diego Clippers.
4. Who did the Portland Trailblazers receive in 1979 as compensation for Bill Walton signing with the San Diego Clippers as a free agent?
This deal was symptomatic of the Clippers' bad luck upon moving west to San Diego and changing the team's name. Walton played only 102 games with the Clips from 1979-84, and missed all of the 1980-81 and 1981-82 seasons. Ouch! In return, the Blazers were supposed to get Randy Smith (who was sent to the Cavaliers anyway), a 1980 first-rounder (whom the Blazers traded to New Jersey), Kermit Washington and Kevin Kunnert.
5. And who did the Clippers get in exchange for that other, more famous product of Guilford, World B. Free, when he was traded to Golden State in 1980?
The Clippers hoped to bolster their defense while getting a competent backcourt scorer in Phil Smith, who, in all fairness, performed well enough (16.8 ppg, 4.9 apg) in 1980-81. But injuries were, at that time, beginning to slow him down, and he was traded to Seattle midway through the 1981-82 season for journeyman point guard Armond Hill and a 1982 second-rounder who became Jeff Taylor. The Clips also got a 1984 first-rounder from the Free trade. With that pick, they selected the terribly disappointing Lancaster Gordon at eighth overall.
6. Which present-day NBA coach was the top scorer on the 1986-87 Clippers team that went 12-70?
Mike Woodson (17.1 ppg in '86-87) was one of the few bright spots on a team that posted the second-worst NBA record in history at that time. His teammates included underachievers like Benoit Benjamin, Quintin Dailey and the aforementioned Lancaster Gordon, a past-his-prime Cedric Maxwell and two injured stars that could have helped the Clippers to about 10-15 more wins – Norm Nixon and Marques Johnson.
7. When was the first time the Clippers had a better winning record than the Lakers since moving to L.A.?
1991-92. Thanks to the play of Danny Manning, Ron Harper, Charles Smith and Doc Rivers and Larry Brown's defensive-oriented coaching, the Clippers went 45-37, which was two more wins than the 43-39 Lakers. All of the players mentioned above (and Brown) would be gone in a matter of a few seasons.
8. How many straight losses did the Clippers suffer to start out the strike-shortened 1998-99 season?
17. Take note this is the year Michael Olowokandi, first-overall pick in the 1998 Draft, was supposed to turn things around. Fortunately, the Clippers went 9-24 the rest of the way, a decent record by their standards at the time.
9. This reserve forward/guard was as close as you could get to a Clippers "lifer" during his time with the team, playing for the Clips from 1994-2003.
If only the Clippers had better luck keeping their star players around for that long. Eric Piatkowski was not a star for the Clippers, but he was a competent role player, earning the nickname "The Polish Rifle" for his three-point shooting ability. Piatkowski played five more years after leaving the Clippers in 2003, but he was never as productive as he was as the Clips' reliable sixth man.
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