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The Buffalo Braves played their first NBA season in 1970. They were one of three franchises that joined the NBA in the 1970-71 season, the others were the Portland Trail Blazers and Cleveland Cavaliers. It's also one of the least loved teams in NBA. How often do you hear about a Clippers fan. The Braves, in their eight seasons in Buffalo, played their home games at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, sharing the arena with another new franchise, the Sabres of the National Hockey League, who also debuted in 1970. The team's first head coach was Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes, the franchise's first star players were Bob Kauffman and Don May, who were acquired in the expansion draft. As typical of first-year expansion teams, the Braves finished with a 22-60 record, five games ahead of expansion-mate Cleveland, who finished their season at 15-67. Kauffman, who averaged 4.3 points per game the previous year with the Chicago Bulls, led Buffalo in scoring with 20.4 points per game and earned a spot on the 1971 NBA Eastern Conference All-Star team.
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The Braves repeated their 22-60 season in the following 1971-72 season, but did make good acquistions that would make the club better. Buffalo drafted center Elmore Smith from Kentucky State University, and local favorite Randy Smith, from Buffalo State University. Schayes was replaced one game into the season with John McCarty as the team's head coach. The team didn't do much better in the 1972-73 season, as they went 21-61 under new head coach, Dr. Jack Ramsay. The Braves' big move of that season was the drafting for forward/center Bob McAdoo, from the University of North Carolina. The team finally made their first playoff appearance in 1973-74, where they faced the Boston Celtics and lost in six games in the first round. The Braves made two more trips to the playoffs in the 1974-75 and 1975-76 seasons, which would be their last in Buffalo.
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In the summer of 1976, the team's founding owner Paul Synder intitally sold 50 percent of the franchise to businessman John Y. Brown, Jr., who had previously owned the Kentucky Colonels of the American Basketball Association. Brown later acquired the remaining portion from Synder sometime in the 1976-77 season. Brown, in turn, sold a percentage of the team to another businessman, Harry Mangurian, who later went to own a portion of the Boston Celtics in the 1980s. However, a provision in the transaction stipulated that if Brown sold a contract of any Braves players, then the money would go to Synder and the price of purchase would be reduced. A big example of this was when the Braves sent McAdoo to the New York Knicks for players and cash midway through the 1976-77 season.
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Brown renegotiated his lease on Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, to include a clause which if the Braves do not sell at least 4,500 season tickets, the Braves can be let go of their lease and be free to move to another city. Because of the team's poor play in their final two years (30-52 in 1976-77 and 27-55 in 1977-78), along with rumors of the franchise relocating, John Y. Brown met with the then-owner of the Celtics, Irv Levin and negotiated a deal in which the owners would swap franchises, in which Brown would take control of the Celtics and Levin would get the Braves. Levin was a California businessman, and wanted to own a NBA team in his native state. The deal was brokered by David Stern, an attorney for the NBA, who of course, later became the league's commissioner in 1984. Following what would be the final season in western New York, the NBA owners voted 21-1 to let the Braves relocate. They moved to San Diego, California after the 1977-78 season, and became the San Diego Clippers.
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In the team's first season in San Diego, the Clippers posted a winning record, going 43-39, under new head coach Gene Shue. However, that record wasn't good enough to advance them to the playoffs, finishing only a few games out of the final playoff spot. It was also in that first season in Southern California that long time announcer Ralph Lawler began his association with the club. Randy Smith had another solid season, averaging 20.5 points per game, finishing second behind World B. Free, who was acquired in the offseason from the Philadelphia 76ers. Free finished second overall in NBA scoring average, with 28.8 per game, while George Gervin of the San Antonio Spurs had a 29.6 average.
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The 1979-80 season wasn't much better, as the Clippers began to struggle, but not before they brought in San Diego native, center Bill Walton, who was two years removed from a NBA world championship with the Trail Blazers. Walton wasn't much of an impact unfortunately, due to missing 68 games because of foot injuries, which he also suffered in his final years in Portland. San Diego finished with a 37-45 season, despite the fact that many of their key players missed games due to injuries. Free continued his great scoring, again finising second in league scoring, with a 30.2 PPG (Points Per Game). Paul Silas replaced Shue the following season, finished with a 36-46 records, once again missing the postseason. Walton missed the entire season, once again due to chronic foot injuries. Free was to traded to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for guard Phil Smith.
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In 1984, the Clippers moved to Los Angeles, California, playing in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena while the Lakers, with a better reputation, continued to play at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, a few miles south. The Clippers were completely out-shadowed by their crosstown counterparts, who were in the midst of the championship run with future Hall of Famers, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and James Worthy. The Clippers, under head coach Jim Lynam (and later Don Chaney), and new acquistions Marques Johnson, Junior Bridgeman, and Harvey Catchings (all acquired via trade from the Milwaukee Bucks), finished with a disappointing 31-51 record in the first season in the City of Angels.
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The next seven seasons (1985-92), the Clippers were mired in futility, including a 12-70 record in the 1986-87 season, the third-worst single-season record in NBA history. (The Worst? The Philadelphia 76ers went 9-73 in 1973) That particular season was filled with injuries to both Marques Johnson and guard Norm Nixon, who missed most, if not, the whole entire season. That season also brought in Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor as the team's vice president and general manager of basketball operations, a post he currently holds to this day. In the 1989-90 season, Baylor made a trade with the Cavaliers that brought in Ron Harper, a rising star guard, in exchange for forward Danny Ferry (who refused to play for the Clippers) and guard Reggie Williams. That move, along with the 1987 draft of Ken Norman from the University of Illinois, the 1988 draftings of Kansas University forward Danny Manning and Charles Smith from the University of Pittsburgh, and the 1990 draft of Loy Vaught from the University of Michigan (currently still the franchise's all-time rebound leader), those players formed a nucleus that led the Clipper franchise to a playoff appearance in 1992, the first since 1976, when the team was still in Buffalo.
Midway through the 1991-92 season, the Clippers made yet another coaching change, but this one worked out in their favor. Larry Brown, who was fired by the Spurs weeks before, was hired as the team's head coach in late January 1992. He replaced head coach Mike Schuler, who at the point of his dismissal, posted a 22-25 record. Brown finished the season with a 23-12 mark, and the overall record for Los Angeles was 45-37. The Clippers were in eliminated in the first round of the playoff by the Utah Jazz, 3 games to 2. Due to the late April 1992 Los Angeles riots, game 4 of their series was moved to the Anaheim Convention Center, and the Clippers won that game. The Clippers returned to the playoffs again in the 1992-93 season (with a 41-41 regular season record), and again lost in five games in the first round, this time to the Houston Rockets.
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The 2002 offseason brought more changes, as popular star Miles was traded to the Cavaliers in exchange for point guard Andre Miller, who led the NBA in assists in 2001-02 with 11 per game. Suddenly, with the good point guard they finally needed, along with another playmaking player at small forward with Lamar Odom, one of the league's best power forwards in Elton Brand, an emering center with Michael Olowokandi, and a very good supporting cast off the bench, the Clippers could actually make a serious run for the playoffs. However, with poor team chemistry and injuries (several players missed a combined 293 games), the Clippers finished with a very disappointing 27-55 record. Head coach Alvin Gentry was replaced by Dennis Johnson midway through the 2002-03 season. In the 2003-04 season, Los Angeles four key players to free agency (Miller, Odom, Olowokandi, and forward Eric Piatkowski--one of the longest-tenured players in Clippers history), while opting to retain Brand and Maggette with long-term contracts. They, along with Richardson, made of one of the NBA best high-scoring trios, with a combined 58 points per game. With new head coach Mike Dunleavy, Sr., the Clippers finished at 28-54, a lot due to inexperience and injuries.
The 2004-2005 season, though, was the turning point for the relations between the two franchises. The Lakers, because of the trade of O'Neal to the Miami Heat, ended the season with a losing record and missed the playoffs. The Clippers, while also missing the playoffs, ended with a better record than the Lakers (the first time since 1993) and have great hope for the future, with young rising stars such as Elton Brand, Corey Maggette and Shaun Livingston. One bright spot in otherwise disappointing season for Los Angeles was that forward Bobby Simmons won the 2004-05 NBA Most Improved Player award, after averaging 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists per game