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Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Are You For Real?: Cassell, K. Brown, Kleiza

By Guy Lake and Brian McKitish
Special to ESPN.com

This week features a player Guy has always loved, one he's always hated and another whose recent play has him intrigued. As usual, each comes with a question mark, though one could argue the second player covered comes with a definitive exclamation point. Sam Cassell has health and age issues; Kwame Brown has Kwame Brown issues; and Linas Kleiza has playing time issues.

Sam Cassell, PG, Clippers

Sam Cassell
Sam Cassell has averaged 19.8 points on 59 percent shooting in his past four games.
Guy: For Real. I love Sam-I-Am. I have owned him on a bunch of teams over the years and have dug his funky clutch stylings since his Florida State days. He has been an afterthought for most of this season, possibly his last, but his recent surge of strong play has brought him back from the brink of irrelevance. He is currently the most-added player in the ESPN game. In his past five games, he has averaged 17.4 points, 5.6 assists, 1.2 steals with 57.8 percent shooting from the field and 85.7 percent from the line in 29.6 minutes per game. This is a good deal better than many of the point guards Brian and I have been covering the past few weeks: Mike Conley, Rafer Alston, Anthony Carter, etc. Still, I hesitate to pull the trigger on the "for real" gun. What's the reservation? Let's start with the fact I am pretty sure Sam is older than Dick Bavetta. Some have speculated that Sam is the answer to the question, what does an Egyptian mummy look like when you remove the wrappings? Luckily for Cassell, his game long ago ceased to be contingent on speed and athleticism. His herky-jerky style will always get youngsters to jump early, allowing him to glide past for a floater or get to the line. So long as he can get up and down the court, he will be effective. As Brian describes below, the word is that owner Don Sterling does not want to trade Cassell. He'd be foolish not to given that Cassell is in the final year of his deal, but so long as he remains with the Clippers, Cassell will have value. Neither Brevin Knight nor Dan Dickau represent any real threat to his minutes. If he is traded, his value will depend on his role and minutes. Cassell needs to play close to 30 minutes per game to stay "for real." Most likely he will.

Mac: For Real. Sam may be old, but I bet he can still beat Dick Bavetta down the court … barely. In all seriousness, Cassell can still ball when he's healthy, and he's currently sitting in a great spot as the starter in Los Angeles. The Clippers haven't shown much faith in backups Brevin Knight or Dan Dickau, and the job is clearly Cassell's when he's healthy. Cassell has played surprisingly well as a starter, averaging 14.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.6 3-pointers per game in 19 starts. As you can see, he lacks a bit in the steals and 3-point departments, so that is something to keep in mind before going all in on Sam. Even so, he can still score and dish, and let's not forget about his near 90 percent shooting from the free-throw line. As Guy mentions above, Cassell's realness will depend on his health, which we all know is tentative at this juncture. But hasn't that always been the concern with Sam, ever since he missed 23 games back in 2004-05? And what's the harm in owning him while he's healthy? One other slight concern for Cassell is that with the 12-25 Clippers going nowhere, Mike Dunleavy could potentially look into going with a youth movement, and Cassell could be on his way out (Boston or Cleveland could use a veteran PG, no?). Fortunately for Cassell owners, the youth movement hasn't happened yet, and if you believe Clippers owner Donald Sterling, it may not happen anytime soon, either. In a recent L.A. Times article, Sterling made it perfectly clear that he's not giving up on the season.

"I want to win and I'm more interested in winning than the lottery," Sterling said, "Our fans are entitled to see our players busting their butts to win. If Sam Cassell or anybody else can help us, whether it's for a month, a year or five years, I want them to help us."

I have a hard time believing that the Clippers won't sell on Sam when they're 15 games out of the final playoff spot around the All-Star break, but I'm not going to worry about a potential trade just yet.

Kwame Brown, PF/C, Lakers

Kwame Brown
Kwame Brown has scored in double figures once in 18 games this season.
Mac: Not Real. There was a time when I used to believe in Kwame Brown. I'm not proud of it, and I'd really not like to talk about it, but here he is again, with yet another opportunity to make good on the promise that once made him the No. 1 pick in the 2001 NBA draft. After underperforming for nearly seven years, it would be an understatement if I said I lost a little faith in the big man. The biggest problem for Kwame (other than his complete lack of confidence) has been that he's never gotten any better. When I watch him play now, I feel like I'm seeing him make the same mistakes he made six years ago. Had he progressed even a little, he could have been a pretty good player, but he still looks like the same guy who has averaged a pedestrian 9.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks in 179 career starts. There is no doubt that Kwame will get a decent amount of run in L.A. with Andrew Bynum out, but he'll still have to fight with Ronny Turiaf (and possibly Chris Webber) for minutes, and even if he wins those battles, he's still not going to produce much more than the numbers above. And on top of that, we also have to worry about how he deals with the boo-birds in Los Angeles. Brown seems to be a fragile soul, and if he has a hard time dealing with the negative reaction he's been receiving, we could see Phil Jackson relying more on Turiaf as the season progresses.

Guy: Not Real. This may be the easiest take I do all season. I mean, the minutes and the opportunities are there. The Lakers' frontcourt is hurting. Bynum is out until March with a dislocated kneecap and bone bruise, and Trevor Ariza will miss significant time with a broken bone in his right foot. And yet, Brown, consistent as always, cannot seize the day. On Monday night against Denver, Turiaf played 25 minutes to Brown's 23; Kwame's minutes have decreased each game as a starter. On a night when Kobe Bryant played Santa Claus -- he took just seven shots and notched 11 assists -- Brown put coal in his owners' stockings. In three games since becoming the Lakers' starting center, Brown has averaged 29.2 minutes, 8.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, no blocks and 3.7 turnovers on 47.3 percent shooting from the field and 58.3 percent from the line. So, to answer the question, what can Brown do for you? Not much, really. Or not much that Turiaf can't do just as well. If you are in a deep league and have to run Brown out there, I am sorry. He'll get you some rebounds and that's about it. I'd rather have Jeff Foster myself. He turns the ball over less and will outrebound Kwame to boot.

Linas Kleiza, PF/SF, Nuggets

Mac: Not Real. Jeez, I hope I didn't jinx Carmelo Anthony when I said that Kleiza would have a hard time putting up consistent scoring numbers with Melo and Allen Iverson around in Monday's Working the Wire. A few hours later, we watched in horror as Anthony laid on the court writhing in pain after landing awkwardly on Kobe Bryant's foot. X-rays came back negative, but this looked like a pretty severe sprain, one that could keep Anthony out of action for at least a week or more. With Melo down, Kleiza went to work, scoring 14 of his 21 points after the injury. Kleiza is now averaging 16.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.6 steals and 2.2 3-pointers in his past five games, but most of that damage was done in two games, including last Thursday's 41-point outburst against the Utah Jazz. Those who watched the Nuggets defeat the Jazz must have noticed that many of Kleiza's points came on the fast break, where he constantly beat Jazz defenders down the court. That's one of the things George Karl likes most about Kleiza: his workman-like attitude and constant motor. Still, there's a reason why the Nuggets' third-leading scorer (Kleiza) is averaging just 11.4 points per game on the season: There are just not enough balls to go around in Denver when both Anthony and Allen Iverson are healthy. Kleiza has some upside, and is going to have some pretty nice value in points and 3-pointers while Carmelo is out, but he'll go back to being his usual self shortly after Anthony returns to the lineup.

Guy: Not Real. Don't worry Mac, your jinxing powers are not that formidable. Anthony is listed as day-to-day and while he is doubtful for tonight's contest, he should be back soon. This is bad news for owners like me who jumped on Kleiza. I actually grabbed him this weekend, thinking he might eke out a start or two with Kenyon Martin recovering from a staph infection. As it was, K-Mart started and my heart sank. Then Anthony went down and Kleiza tacked on 14 points to score 21 total with four 3-pointers for the game. He should get the start Wednesday against Atlanta, but after that he will be waiting on Melo's return. Kleiza could be a formidable scorer in this league. He has deep range, has the hops and strength to finish with authority inside and, as Mac pointed out, has a nonstop motor. He is dangerous in both half-court sets and the transition game.

George Karl said this of Kleiza's running game to the Denver Post: "I wish other guys -- J.R. (Smith), Carmelo (Anthony) -- would run like that more often. I just think it makes us a better basketball team, creates more flow."

The only thing keeping Kleiza from "for real" status is the ravenous appetites of Iverson and Anthony. After they jack up 39.6 shots per game (46.3 percent of the Nuggets' total), there just isn't that much left to go around. On many other teams, Kleiza would start and be a solid fantasy commodity. On the Nuggets, his owners are left waiting for injuries. The good news is that the oft-injured Kenyon Martin is a teammate and his trips to the training room will get Kleiza more minutes. If you have a deep bench, I would stash Kleiza in anticipation of injury-induced spikes in playing time. Otherwise, ride him out this scoring period then look for the flavor of next week.

Guy Lake and Brian McKitish are fantasy analysts for ESPN.com. Guy can be reached at GuyLake@TalentedMrRoto.com while Mac can be found at Littlemac@TalentedMrRoto.com.