Commentary

Moment has arrived for Clippers

Updated: February 17, 2010, 9:59 PM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

He's in an office somewhere with all sorts of cellphones buzzing and whirring as the NBA trade deadline approaches. Hardly a historic or fitting venue for such a moment.

But Mike Dunleavy and the Clippers may have just arrived. Not on the scene. Not even as a contender just yet. No, their blood is still red, not blue.

Arrived, at their moment.

The trades Dunleavy and his front-office staff have artfully engineered over the past two days have put the long-suffering franchise in position to exorcise nearly three decades of mostly ineptitude and crushing irrelevance since moving to Los Angeles in 1984.

To rebrand and reinvent themselves.

To dream the almost impossible dream of signing LeBron James, or one of the other elite free agents who will hit the market July 1.

To no longer be the loveable losers in the small locker room down the hall from the Lakers at Staples Center, but a full-fledged NBA contender making bold moves at the trade deadline and pursuing elite free agents in the summer.

[+] EnlargeMike Dunleavy
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty ImagesClippers GM Mike Dunleavy can turn around the franchise's feeble history with a bold move involving this summer's free-agent class.

No longer be famous for how unlucky they are and the wild stories of a curse hanging over the franchise.

They have reached similar thresholds before but never passed through them to the other side of true respectability.

Just last summer they won the draft lottery and correctly selected Blake Griffin No. 1 overall ... which has since become another example of the franchise's terrible luck.

Two summers ago, Dunleavy had what he thought was a verbal agreement with both Elton Brand and Baron Davis, only to see it dramatically unravel when Brand opted to sign with Philadelphia.

I could go on, back another couple of years to Shaun Livingston's devastating knee injury or Brand's freak Achilles' tendon rupture, but all the stories pretty much blend together into a deeply-entrenched stereotype of the Clippers being cursed, incompetent and/or incapable of ever winning.

It's why people give ridiculous rumors such as the one involving Isiah Thomas being contacted to run the team and coach it, two weeks ago, any sort of credence.

I wasn't counting, but I got at least four text messages saying something like, "No way. Can't believe Clippers would do this. But it's the Clips, who knows?"

Team officials immediately laughed off the idea and tried to get me to ignore the story. For any other team, that probably would've happened. But again, it's the Clippers, who have a reputation to constantly live down.

This is the moment they can change all that. To finally, mercifully, take the bag off their head.

Their moves over the past two days: Trading Marcus Camby to Portland for (essentially) the Bird rights to Travis Outlaw and Steve Blake, shaving approximately $5.5 million off their salary cap next year by dealing Al Thornton and Sebastian Telfair to the Wizards and Cavaliers, enabling them to make a max offer to a free agent this summer, were big boy kind of moves.

When he stepped down as coach two weeks ago, Dunleavy lamented, "I feel like I've built it twice, to be honest with you," referring to Livingston's injury and Brand's departure.

If he can build it a third time, who knows who might come?

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.

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