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Maybe Gooden, who scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, has brought some good luck to a team that hasn't experienced much of it. In the Clippers' previous home game, which was Gooden's first start, Rip Hamilton missed three free throws that would have brought the Pistons to within one point of the Clippers in the last seven seconds. Gooden ended with 20 points and 13 rebounds as the Clippers beat the Pistons 97-91. "I don't know what it is," he said. "I'm used to pulling it out in those situations." What he has not been used to recently is staying on one team. Gooden, who has been traded during the past three trade deadlines, should almost expect to be moved after the NBA All-Star break by now, but his three-city tour two weeks ago from Dallas to Washington to Los Angeles took him by surprise. After signing with the Mavericks in the offseason, he thought he had finally found a home with a contender. "This one came out of nowhere," Gooden said. "This one was kind of like the Cleveland trade, where I didn't see it coming. I was playing well in Dallas and it seemed like a good fit for us, but it was a move they had to make. Things started sliding downhill a little bit before the break with [Erick] Dampier going out. They really didn't have a center, so they made a move. They sent Josh Howard and me to [Washington] D.C. to get Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler, which is a great move for Dallas. I wish them the best. I just didn't see it coming." Gooden actually never actually moved to Washington; he was in the city long enough to chat with the media, look at a uniform he'd never wear and talk to enough people to know he would be traded or have his contract bought out within 72 hours. Even after the Wizards traded him to the Clippers, Gooden figured he'd be bought out and would be able to sign with a contender for the stretch run. The Clippers, however, had other ideas. After trading Marcus Camby, they were in desperate need of a veteran big man and wanted Gooden to stay. It was one of the few times in the past two years a team didn't want to part ways with him, and with his luck, the arrow on his Wheel-of-Fortune career landed on the Clippers.
"The Clippers really stressed how they wanted me here, so we'll see what happens after this season," Gooden said. "It all looks and sounds good right now, but when free agency hits we'll see what happens. I'm used to this by now."Gooden is so used to this he won't fully move to Los Angeles. He's living at a hotel with most of his belongings back in Florida, where he will return immediately after the season is over. "I feel like I'm still on the road," he said. "This feels like a 20-plus-game road trip for me, so I'm just keeping my stuff at a hotel. I've been a vagabond for quite some time so I know how to adjust. I'm here to play basketball during the season and then I'm heading back to Florida. I've never been much of a Hollywood guy." Even if Gooden doesn't factor into the Clippers' future plans, he has adjusted quite nicely to playing with the team. He has averaged 16.2 points and 10 rebounds since being traded to Los Angeles, and the Clippers are actually playing like a team with something to play for. Not bad considering the moves they made before the trade deadline were nothing more than cost-effective decisions to clear cap space for a max contract player in the offseason. "He's good, and the fact that he's played for so many teams and seen so many systems has helped his ability to adjust on the run," said Clippers coach Kim Hughes. "But it's not just that. He's a talented player. He has inside game and an outside game and he's shown me that in a late clock we can switch pick-and-rolls and he could guard a small for a short period of time, and that's a major attribute." Gooden, who says he probably knows every playbook in the league by now, isn't just a chameleon when it comes to adjusting to different teams and cities; he has also been a good fit in every locker room he's ever been in. Despite only being with the Clippers for all of 10 days, he was the one controlling the conversation and giving players advice before the team played Utah. "Get over it," Gooden told Travis Outlaw, who was complaining about some criticism he had recently heard. "You can do something about it by getting 15 rebounds tonight." He then turned to Steve Blake and engaged him in a conversation about one of the more embarrassing moments of his career. "Two months back, Andre Miller hung 52 on us," said Gooden of the Jan. 30 game in which Miller scored 52 points against the Mavericks. Before Gooden hit the court, he spent another five minutes talking to Rasual Butler about the Jazz as he watched tape of the Jazz-Rockets game. "Watch that screen," he said as he watched Boozer jostle with Chuck Hayes. "You got to roll through that." As much as Gooden wouldn't mind calling a single team and city his home, he admits he doesn't mind having played on one-third of the teams in the league when he's watching game film. "I'm a fan of the game first and foremost, and I've gotten to play with LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki," he said. "Those are some future Hall of Famers. I've also had a chance to play for Gregg Popovich and some big-time coaches. That's been a plus and an advantage for me in my career that I wouldn't trade." And that's coming from someone who knows a thing or six about trades. "People say it's a business, but until you actually go through it you don't know," Gooden said. "I actually think I'll be a better GM than a player when I get done." At least then he'll finally be the one making the trades instead of getting traded.
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.