Walton missed 68 games due to foot injuries (which he also suffered in his final years in Portland).San Diego finished 35–47 as key players missed games due to injuries.The Clippers were frequently seen as an example of a perennial loser in American professional sports, drawing unfavorable comparisons to the historically successful Lakers, with whom they have shared a market since 1984 and an arena since 1999.

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Walton missed the entire season again due to foot injuries.

Free was traded to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for guard Phil Smith.

It was also in that first season in southern California that long-time announcer Ralph Lawler began his association with the club. Free, who was acquired in the offseason from the Philadelphia 76ers, finished second overall in NBA scoring average, with 28.9 per game, while George Gervin of the San Antonio Spurs had a 29.6 average.

The 1979–80 season saw the Clippers begin to struggle despite adding center Bill Walton, a San Diego native who was two years removed from an NBA Championship with the Trail Blazers.

Despite the team's modest success in Buffalo, Braves owner Paul Snyder and the league found it impossible to schedule home games at the auditorium because the Canisius Golden Griffins men's basketball team, which had a pre-existing lease on the arena and priority on game dates over the Braves, saw the Braves as a threat to their own success and purposely scheduled all the best dates at the arena to prevent the Braves from succeeding.

As a result, after a failed attempt to sell the team to an owner who intended to move it to South Florida, Snyder sold the team to Kentucky Colonels owner John Y.

Playing at the San Diego Sports Arena, the Clippers posted a record of 43–39 in their first season in California under new head coach Gene Shue, leaving them two wins shy of the final playoff spot.