Why December 15th is an important day

The buzzards aren’t quite yet circling, but they might be making flight plans.

That’s what happens when a team opens the season 1-9, as the Clippers have. Every loss brings a handful of new phone calls from front offices around the NBA, wondering if they might be of any assistance in shaking things up.

The Clippers generally tend to answer those phone calls and listen, but don’t expect any major moves right away for two very important reasons.

First, the club still feels like its current roster can win.

“I think guys are honestly really committed to turning this thing around,” Clippers forward Marcus Camby said after practice Tuesday. “We still feel like we have a chance to make the playoffs. It may seem bleak because of where we’re at right now, but we still have 70-plus games to go.”

And second, because by league rules, nearly a quarter the roster can’t be traded until Dec. 15 because they were acquired in the offseason via trade. Three players are rookies, and the club has no intention of letting any of them go.

So essentially, half the roster is off-limits until Dec. 15, which is 23 games into the season, approximately the amount of time club officials have always felt was necessary to fairly evaluate how all the pieces on this roster are fitting together.

“First of all, whether we’re 1-9 or 9-1, you’re always exploring options that could make your team better,” Clippers coach and general manager Mike Dunleavy said. “You’re always in work mode. You’re always talking to people.

“It’s awful, horrible where we are. But there’s 70-plus games left in the season. … The real question I’m looking for is: Who are the guys that are mentally tough and want to work … and who are the guys that are heading for the hills?”

Last week, trade rumors began swirling around center Chris Kaman after a report in the New York Post said the Charlotte Bobcats had inquired about him. Dunleavy acknowledged Charlotte had called and that the Clippers had listened, but contended the talks died rather quickly.

Since that report, rather predictably, about half the league has called to inquire about Kaman’s availability. But according to a source with knowledge of the team’s thinking, Kaman is not involved in any substantive personnel discussions at the moment.

Now, does this mean the Clippers will make a big move after December 15? No, not at all. Just that you should consider the restrictions on the team whenever a trade rumor floats around the team.

As for other guys whose names often come up in trade rumors: guys like Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas whose contracts expire before the golden year of 2010. Well, the same reason all those other teams would want Mobley or Thomas is the same reason the Clippers would want to keep them.

After all, the Clippers have worked very hard, albeit somewhat quietly, to position themselves well to be in on the 2010 bonanza and aren’t keen on trading that away.

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