Clippers Open Camp with High Expectations
The Los Angeles Clippers opened training camp on Friday with an early media day before their extended preseason that will take them all the way to China.
Their roster has been upgraded with the additions of Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Willie Green, Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf.
The team inked power forward Blake Griffin to a long-term extension, which was the franchise’s top priority, according to President Andy Roeser.
“I really like our team this season,” said Roeser. “I don’t see any limit to what we can accomplish as a team. I think the additions with Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill help us at all the positions. I think we come back with a great mix of veterans, young players, experience and savvy and a lot of depth at every position. I can’t wait to see us play.”
The team also re-signed Chauncey Billups, who is still working back from his torn Achilles’ tendon and doesn’t expect to be ready by the team’s opener (despite his best efforts).
“I’ll be 100 percent healthy [once rehabilitation is complete],” said Billups, “But I won’t be 100 percent of where I’ve always been as far as my game, my rhythm, basketball. It will probably take me a couple of months to get those kinds of things back. As far as my health and my body, I’ll definitely be 100 percent back.”
Billups has been cleared to participate in limited team drills.
Griffin, who underwent knee surgery to repair a meniscus tear, declared he was completely over the injury and can practice at full contact.
The Clippers will take it a little slower with Chris Paul, who tore a ligament in his right thumb. While he has been cleared for non-contact practice, the team expects Paul to participate in at least one preseason game.
Second-year forward Trey Thompkins suffered a bone bruise in his left knee during summer league in Las Vegas. He noted that he’s close to a return but will skip the team’s trip to China. Billups will also stay in Los Angeles to continue rehab.
Thompkins doesn’t expect to miss any regular season time.
Additionally, five players were invited to camp, all long-shots to make what is already a full roster: Marqus Blakely, Courtney Fortson, Chris Johnson, Trent Plaisted and Hank Thorns.
Shortly after the playoffs, the Clippers picked up the option on the final year of Coach Vinny Del Negro’s contract. Neil Olshey, former Vice President of Basketball Operations, left for the Portland Trail Blazers and the organization chose an in-house replacement in Gary Sacks.
“Gary’s the right guy to run our basketball operations,” said Roeser. “I’ve worked with Gary for close to 20 years. Our roster, right now, reflects a lot of his views, not just from the additions we made this summer, but also in the last couple of years.”
After Olshey’s departure, the team’s personnel decisions were made in tandem by Del Negro, Sacks and Roeser. While Roeser, as president and team salary cap expert, will still have major input on the roster, Del Negro’s say may decrease.
“Gary’s now the leader of our basketball operations,” said Roeser. “It was nice to have Vinny’s input in player transactions this summer, but I don’t think it’s fair to put that burden on the coach during the season.”
On Friday, Sacks spoke to his first true media scrum as vice president of basketball operations.
“I kind of feel like we all have a job to do,” Sacks said of the media. “We all have to communicate a message. We all have to tell our story. I think if you’re willing to work with people, I think we can work well together. For me, it’s a new process but it’s not too daunting.”
Overall, the mood in the gym was optimistic. The Clippers, across the roster, seem to believe they have real a chance to do something special this season.
The pecking order is clear. Griffin and Paul are the team’s superstars. The mantra from the rest of the squad was sacrifice for a greater chance at the title.
“If you want to win, you’re going to have to sacrifice at times,” said Sacks. “I think when you’re under the mindset that you want to win and that’s the most important thing, I don’t necessarily think that playing time is a bad thing. You never want a player to be happy about not playing. I mean, I wouldn’t be.
“The difference is they’ll channel it the right way. They’ll come out in practice, work hard and make our team better. I think playing time will never be an issue.”
Championships aren’t won on paper, but the Clippers do look like one of the better teams in the league this season. They still have significant steps to climb to be the best, but it’s not a stretch to say they’ll be in contention.
Naturally the key is health, chemistry and a bit of luck.
Make sure to check out HOOPSWORLD’s 2012-13 Los Angeles Clippers Season Preview.