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Wednesday, March 5, 2003
Updated: March 7, 2:21 PM ET
Finally, the Clips win

By Jim Armstrong
Special to Page 2

Alvin Gentry is gone after compiling an 89-133 record as the Clippers' head coach. No word yet on whether the team plans to erect a statue of him outside the Staples Center.

The amazing part was that Gentry lasted almost three seasons. That's more than Dolph Schayes, the franchise's first coach, could say. He finished 22-60 in 1970-71, when the Clips' predecessors, the Buffalo Braves, were feeling the growing pains of expansion. He was fired the next season -- after one game.

Michael Olowokandi, Kenyon Dooling, Andre Miller
The Clippers frequently stop the game to say goodbye to each other.
Gentry became the 24th Clippers coach to come and go. Hey, stuff happens when you've won four playoff games since the ABA-NBA merger. Then there's the Lakers. If they're Greg Maddux, the Clippers are Mike Maddux. The Lakers have won 360 playoff games, the Paper Clips 13.

Talk about history dissing a team. The Clips had the first pick in the draft in 1988 and '98 and chose Danny Manning and Michael Olowokandi. The Spurs, on the other hand, had the top pick in 1987 and '97 and came away with David Robinson and Tim Duncan.

The amazing part is that, with the free-agent signing period a few months away, ex-Clippers figure to be some of the most popular commodities on the market. Olowokandi will be an unrestricted free agent and a handful of his teammates, including Elton Brand, Andre Miller and Lamar Odom, will be restricted free agents.

So what are the chances of Clippers owner Donald Sterling retaining most of them? Let's put it this way: No Clippers player has ever become an unrestricted free agent and re-signed with the team for more than $3 million -- chump change in today's NBA.

Olowokandi is going, all right, and he won't be alone. When you're a Clipper, you learn to do two things -- lose and leave. That's why, when it came time for ESPN.com to pick the 10 worst franchises in pro sports, the only question was this: What are the other nine? Now that you asked ...

The Ultimate Standings
Are the Clippers really the worst franchise in sports? Not according to fans. In SportsNation's Ultimate Standings, we asked fans what they wanted from their favorite team and we then ranked each franchise -- all 118. The Clippers ranked 105th, ahead of more storied teams like the Knicks, Lions and Trail Blazers.

2. Cincinnati Bengals
You know the Clippers are hapless and hopeless when they beat out the Bengals on our list. The Dawg Pound is in Cleveland; the Dog Pound is in Cincy. This franchise has never recovered from Joe Montana threading the needle to John Taylor for the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XXIII. The Bengals' records since the 1990 season, when they made their last post-season appearance: 3-13, 5-11, 3-13, 3-13, 7-9, 8-8, 7-9, 3-13, 4-12, 4-12, 6-10, 2-14.

The greatest upset in sports in the past 20 years? It didn't happen on the field. It occurred a few years ago when Cincinnati voters agreed on a tax to fund a new stadium for Mike Brown. If Miami of Ohio is the cradle of coaches, then Cincy is the coffin. Where it all stops, no one seems to know. Brown has operated on the cheap for so long, no free agent worth signing would take his money even if he had a senior moment and offered it. As usual, the Bengals have the first pick in the draft. There's just one little problem: They don't necessarily want it. The Bengals aren't in the habit of writing eight-figure checks to anyone unless his last name is Brown.

3. Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals' problems all start at the top, where Bill Bidwill sits atop the team's hierarchy. You would think since his family has owned the team since its days in Chicago, Bowtie Bill would know a thing or two about running an NFL team. But no. All he's done is run the Cardinals into the ground. Not that they haven't had some talent through the years. Do the names Jay Novacek, Simeon Rice, Garrison Hearst, Tim McDonald and Jamir Miller ring any bells? Each was a Cardinal in his younger years, and each went on to become a better player in another NFL city. Don't look now, but it's happening again this year. You watch. Jake Plummer will be the answer in Denver.

Eric Lindros
The closest Lindros will get to the Stanley Cup is Sega Hockey '95.
4. New York Rangers
Money can buy a pennant, but not Lord Stanley's beer mug. The Rangers are much like their baseball namesakes: big payroll, no cattle. But it's more than that. It's their arrogance. As if signing Theo Fleury was going to be the answer. Or Darius Kasparitis. Or Eric Lindros. Like Lindros, Mark Messier was a great player in his day. Trouble is, it was the day after Noah built the ark. Which brings us to today's trivia question: Who is the luckiest man in America? Answer: Bryan Trottier. He was fired 54 games into his first season as the Rangers' coach. Knowing the Rangers, it's a wonder they didn't try to sign him to skate.

5. Detroit Tigers
Talk about a no-name roster. You've got to go to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation to find a bigger bunch of stiffs than the Tigers. They cry poverty -- what team west of the Hudson doesn't these days? -- but the real problem is their farm system. When Bobby Higginson is the best player you've produced in 20 years, you're going to have problems. The Tigers are terrible, all right. What's worse, they're stuck playing in Comerica Park, the Edsel of new-wave ballparks. Memo to Tigers management: Chicks dig the long ball, but only if it doesn't die at the warning track. You've got to hit it to Canada to get it out of the freakin' place. Which is fine, of course, if your club is built around pitching. Quick, name three of the Tigers' five starters! See what we mean?

6. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets lead the league in cap room, but rank last in almost everything else. They're 29th among the NBA's 29 teams in scoring, shooting percentage, three-point shooting percentage and free-throw shooting percentage. Hey, at least they're consistent. By all accounts, you're talking about the worst offensive team since the 24-second clock was instituted in 1954. Give them this, though: They're making progress. GM Kiki Vandeweghe scouted each of the team's No. 1 draft choices last year. That's more than former GM Bernie Bickerstaff could say. He drafted Efthimios Rentzias out of Greece without ever having seen him play. Rentzias was reported to be 6-10, maybe 6-11 on draft day. By the time he showed up, he had shrunk to 6-7 1/2. Must have been those cramped seats on the plane. Doug Moe, rehired by Vandeweghe as a consultant, never should have been fired as coach. So why did the Nuggets get rid of him? One of their former owners didn't like the way he dressed.

7. Milwaukee Brewers
Prince Fielder had better keep eating if he's going to carry this sorry outfit on his shoulders. The Brewers haven't been any good since Laverne and Shirley skipped town. We're talking serious, fundamental problems here. The Brewers strike out more and get on base less than any team in baseball. And their pitching hasn't been the same since Pete Vuckovich and Rollie Fingers blew out their arms in '82. Money is tight, of course, but the front office did make one major free-agent splash in recent years, signing an outfielder coming off a .335-20-106 season for three years and $21 million. Now for the fine print: Jeffrey Hammonds put up those numbers in Colorado.

8. Baltimore Orioles
Good thing the O's signed Albert Belle a few years back or they would have been in big trouble. And Scott Erickson. Where would they be without him? Maybe Pudge Rodriguez has a chance to stay healthy after telling the Orioles to keep their money. From the looks of their farm system, they ought to put the cash into player development. In the end, that's why the O's are in this mess: Once they ran out of Robinsons, they couldn't produce any more talent. Oh, and they've got an owner nobody wants to play for, too.

Paul Allen
"Hmmm, maybe could 'Sheed play wide receiver?"
9. Seattle Seahawks
A certain NFL owner was asked one day how wealthy Paul Allen was. ''Let's put it this way,'' the owner said, ''he could buy the league.'' A lot it's gotten Allen, who collects dysfunctional football players as if they were Jimi Hendrix memorabilia. They tend to get overlooked since they play in the Northwest, but, trust us, the Seahawks richly deserve to be on our list. They can play dead with anybody. Fact: They've made the playoffs twice in the past 14 years and haven't won a playoff game since the 1984 season. When their new stadium opened last year, Seattle corporations were so disinterested in bidding for the naming rights, the place wound up being called Seahawk Stadium. Mike Holmgren promises things are going to be different next season. Maybe so, but buyer beware: This is the Seadogs we're talking about.

10. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Give them time and they could take over the top spot from the Paper Clips. Yeah, we know, they've only been around for five years. But they've packed a lifetime of disappointments and embarrassing moments into that time. We're talking five-tool ineptness. The Rays' problem is that they've never come up with a blueprint for success. They went young in the early days before acquiring Vinny Castilla, Greg Vaughn and Jose Canseco to provide some popups in the middle of their lineup. Now they've slashed their payroll, gone back to the kids and hired hometown hero Lou Piniella as their manager. Now if they could just get rid of Tropicana Field and reduce the median age of their fan base by 20 years, they might have a fighting chance.

Jim Armstrong, a sports columnist for the Denver Post, is a regular contributor to Page 2.