Saturday, January 16, 2010 Updated: January 17, 3:09 AM ET
Clippers are stargazing
By Ramona Shelburne ESPNLosAngeles.com
It makes too much sense and none at all.
Let's start slowly, with just a (sentence) fragment of imagination so it can sink in.
LeBron James, the Los Angeles Clippers.
Hard to picture those two entities on the same line? Try this one, it's even weirder:
LeBron James signs with the Los Angeles Clippers.
What would LeBron James look like in a Clippers jersey?
Shake your head, take a breath, laugh, whatever you gotta do.
But it could happen.
The Clippers host King James and his Cleveland Cavaliers tonight. The next time James and the Clippers are in Staples Center they could all be teammates.
Again, shake your head, take a breath, laugh, whatever you gotta do.
It really could happen.
While James has openly flirted with the New York media over the past few years, and the Knicks have done little to disguise their intention of being players for James and this summer's talented free-agent class, the Clippers have quietly but sharply positioned themselves as an exceptionally viable suitor in this summer's long-awaited free-agent bonanza.
That's right, your Los Angeles Clippers.
With only seven players and $39 million committed to the 2010-11 roster, the Clippers are a cheap trade or two away from having enough salary-cap space to hook one of the giant free-agent fish that will hit the open seas July 1.
"You never know what agendas people might have, but you're just looking at being in position and being able to be potentially attractive," Clippers coach and general manager Mike Dunleavy said, making sure to stop short of mentioning any names or specifics. "We've tried to position ourself cap-wise to be a player in 2010."
For the past two years the summer of 2010 has loomed over the NBA skyline as a ground-shifting moment. Entire teams remade with a pen stroke, franchises decimated and rebuilt, power shifting on tectonic levels.
The names are staggering, the possibilities endless: James, Dwyane Wade, Amare Stoudemire, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Bosh.
And those are just the first-tier guys.
Right now there are only seven teams in range to make a legitimate run at any of them: Minnesota, Oklahoma City, the Knicks, the Nets, Miami, Chicago and the Clippers.
If you're an enormously popular and talented NBA star deciding where to spend the next six years of your career, where would you go, and which supporting cast would you want to lead?
Baron Davis, Chris Kaman, Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin?
Or Danilo Gallinari, Jordan Hill, Wilson Chandler and Eddy Curry?
It makes too much sense, and none at all.
I know, I know; we've been down this road before.
To this day former general manager Elgin Baylor tells stories of how he almost convinced Kobe Bryant to sign with the Clippers when he was a free agent back in 2004.
But like a lot of the great moments in Clippers history, it just didn't work out.
Though the franchise has done little to undo or expel the cruel karma that seems to undermine its progress, it has done a lot right in the following five seasons.
Building a gleaming new $50 million practice facility, signing its top homegrown players to long-term deals (see Kaman, $52.5 million contract in 2006) and luring stars like Baron Davis via free agency.
The Clippers even made the playoffs and won a playoff series along the way.
"If we can get to the goal with Kobe Bryant back when we were still practicing at Southwest College, I don't think there's any reason why anybody wouldn't consider us now," assistant general manager Neil Olshey said.
"While we had good players [in 2004], we didn't have the star power we do now with Baron. Chris [Kaman] was just a second-year player back then. We practiced at Southwest College and we hadn't proved we could make a playoff run.
"I think we're better-positioned now."
All very compelling points.
Except, of course, we're talking about the Clippers, a franchise so perpetually unlucky you wonder if it built its first practice court on top of an Indian burial ground.
But what if, in an effort to fund what would be one of the NBA's all-time free-agent signings, owner Donald Sterling sold the naming rights to the franchise?
Or better yet, what if he offered naming rights as part of the deal?
It makes too much sense, and none at all.
A new start for the game's biggest star and its most accursed franchise.
It only takes a fragment of imagination.
The Los Angeles LeBrons?
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com