NBA PM: “High-Spirited” Rivalry In Los Angeles
Last NBA season, for the first time ever, we saw the Los Angeles Clippers threaten to overshadow the Los Angeles Lakers as the best team in LA. The addition of Chris Paul gave Blake Griffin and company an elite floor leader to usher in a new era of playoff basketball, and gave Clippers fans reason to believe in their team as possible contenders. They fell short of that goal in postseason play, but Chauncey Billups believes the franchise he adopted put themselves in the discussion with their cross-arena rivals.
“I think last year we made a huge step in even trying to have a rivalry with that team,” Billups told HOOPSWORLD. “Of course, over time, it’s not been a rivalry, history doesn’t tell you that, but expectations of talent, upgrades around here. It’s a lot different around here now. Last year we had some great games with them, some high-spirited games with them, and I expect the same thing this year.”
Though the Clippers lost in the second round last season, Billups believes that the team grew up a lot by going through a tough first round series with the Memphis Grizzlies and even through the process of losing to the San Antonio Spurs.
“I thought the Memphis series, for our team, our young guys grew up a lot that series, to be honest with you,” said Billups. “Obviously, it was a game seven situation on the road and it could have gone either way, we could have lost that series, but the guts, man, and the pride, and the toughness that the guys showed really impressed me. I think that it surprised some of our guys too, and it was just great. I thought it was just great. We grew up a lot. Then you go play a team like San Antonio, and they basically ran through us, man, and I think it all had to do with, mentally, just the small, little detailed things that cause a big deal in a playoff series that we never knew about as a team. Obviously, it showed up in a big way in that San Antonio series, and that’ll be some of the things that myself, and I’m sure everybody else, will talk about this day forward. It’s the small things, slipping throughout the season, that when you’re playing games and winning by fifteen, but it’s really not that great of a win because you just got over on athletic talent as opposed to playing good basketball. Those are the things that become a big deal and get you deep later in series.”
Billups, of course, suffered a torn left Achilles’ tendon last season and missed the majority of the lockout-shortened campaign. He’s not making the preseason trip to China with the team, but he has been out doing as much as he can during the training camp process.
“I’ll be out there on the court with the guys, but I’m not released yet to play five-on-five yet,” said Billups. “We’ll see when that’s going to happen, but just being out there with the guys will be good for me. I’m in shape, and feel good and everything, but I’m not quite in basketball shape because I haven’t played basketball. You got to take your time, and I’m not really in a rush to be honest with you. I listen to my body, and when it tells me I’m ready to get back out there, that’s when I’ll be back out there.”
The rehab process is proceeding as expected, but it doesn’t change the disappointment of missing out on so much while he’s been nursing the injury.
“The toughest part is you’re missing out, you’re losing the season,” said Billups. “Missing out on something you’ve worked hard for, like playing in the Olympics, that was tough. Physically you get down, but injuries, quite frankly, are really a part of the game. There really is no good time for a major injury like that. But the Achilles, in particular, fifteen to twenty years ago, this particular area was a death sentence as far as your career, but obviously times have changed now. I’m going to try to let people know that times have changed and you can get back to playing at a high level from an injury, but it does, it takes time, it takes a lot of time.”
The fact that the Clippers are an even deeper team this season, particularly with Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford joining the ranks, gives Billups the peace of mind to take his time and really get his body right before he returns.
“Actually, the depth that we have now, it gives me a little sense of relief,” said Billups. “It lets me take my time and come back when I’m really ready because we have such great depth, guys that can get in there and do the job, so that gives me a lot of relief.”
It is also his team’s depth that gives Billups a great deal of confidence in the Clippers heading into the 2012-13 season.
“This is going to be the deepest team I’ve ever played for,” said Billups. “As far as being deep all the way throughout, it’d be the deepest team I’ve played for. But as you know, talent doesn’t always—that’s not it. You got to put it together. You got to take time. You always got to be defined, and more importantly than that, guys got to accept their roles. I think we have a great locker room, great guys, great experience, great young talent, we have a really great route, now we just got to let things take their course a little bit. Let things kind of happen. Hopefully, they go the right way and we have a great season.”
The Lakers may have upped the ante with the acquisitions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, but the Clippers look to be a deeper, more talented team this season, as well. Most pundits will have a hard time seeing the Clippers as the best team in LA, let alone in the Western Conference, but counting the Clippers out would be a huge mistake. Los Angeles’ other team is loaded and ready to run.
Mark Jackson Cautiously Optimistic
It’s no secret that the NBA’s Western Conference is as deep as it’s ever been, and while the contenders seem easy to pick, after the LA Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs, the conference appears to be wide open. One of the teams expected to make a serious push to return to postseason play is the Golden State Warriors, and head coach Mark Jackson can’t help but be optimistic with his revamped and loaded roster.
“I’m very excited about it,” Jackson told KNBR in San Francisco recently. “We are certainly a much better basketball team and I give credit to our ownership, led by Joe Lacob, and our front office, led by G.M. Bob Myers, of putting together and making decisions whether it be via draft choices, free agency or trades. They certainly put us in a better position, so we are excited about what lies ahead.”
None of this season’s new additions will be as highly anticipated as Andrew Bogut, who was injured when the team acquired him last season.
“He’s progressing very nicely,” said Jackson. “We had him play five-on-five today. He’s not ready, but we are very pleased at where he is and I think the target date is opening night. He’s certainly doing everything he’s been asked to do. As far as the doctors are concerned, it looks like that is a real date.”
As for his three recent first round draft picks, Jackson believes all will have a positive impact on the team this season.
“I really believe all three of those guys,” said Jackson. “We couldn’t have gotten a better group of guys as people, as professionals. They certainly work extremely hard. Harrison Barnes was the number seven pick for a reason. He’s going to have a real chance at starting. He’s the one guy, if everyone is healthy, he has a legitimate chance of coming in and earning a starting position. Those other guys, you are talking about having to beat out Andrew Bogut, and Festus Ezeli you are thinking in your mind, no way in the world. That’s not going to happen. You’re 100 percent right, but all three of those guys will have legitimate chances to play and play right away.”
Jackson also sounded off on the latest news, which is that the NBA will work to punish players who incessantly flop to trick referees into calling fouls.
“These guys are so good at doing it and when people think about the flop rule you automatically think about a guy taking a charge, but they have elevated their game of flopping on the offensive end,” said Jackson. “You can flop and pretend you got hit in a pick-and-roll or you can pretend you got hit going to the cup. So I think when Jeff Van Gundy, when I was doing TV, he suggested the rule and I immediately said, ‘It makes no sense.’ I understand that guys have gotten so good at it that they trick the referees and possessions of games can be won or lost. It certainly has become time to make a rule and it’ll be interesting to see how they determine it.”
As for the Warriors, as optimistic as Jackson is, he isn’t ready to guarantee the playoffs.
“No we are not,” Jackson said. “We are going to guarantee great energy, passion — a team that is going to compete and leave it on the floor. We are going to have a lot of fun.”
Hibbert Happy To Be Back
There was a never a doubt that Roy Hibbert was going to be an Indiana Pacer for the foreseeable future, but as he entered restricted free agency and had significant talks with the Portland Trail Blazers, it forced the Pacers to pay him more than they might have otherwise. Hibbert takes nothing for granted, but sees his new contract as a reward for his great work ethic.
“It wasn’t about the money,” Hibbert said as training camp got underway in Indiana. “It was the fact that in the back of my mind I want to be with the Pacers, but at the same time I think back to the draft class (2008) and there’s a few people ahead of me and I thought I’m better than those guys. What I was given this summer was a statement for my hard work.”
Some players get their big pay day and then relax a bit, perhaps never earning the money once the hunger is gone. That’s not the concern with Hibbert; in fact, it’s just the opposite.
“Roy puts a lot of pressure on himself every year,” head coach Frank Vogel said. “That’s certainly a concern. It’s something we’ll talk about. He’s aware of it, but he can’t change himself too much. I don’t think it will be a problem.”
Essentially, all the Pacers need Hibbert to do is to continue doing what he’s always done. In his four years in the NBA Hibbert has shown steady improvement year over year, whether it’s been his scoring and rebounding numbers or his efficiency on the offensive end. As the team’s anchor in the middle, there’s a great deal of responsibility on Hibbert’s shoulders, but he’s prepared for that.
“I’ve always wanted more responsibility since I came into the league,” said Hibbert. “For the most part right now I feel totally at ease.”
Likewise, the Pacers feel completely at ease knowing they have Hibbert locked up long-term.
HOOPSWORLD Season Previews
The 2012-13 NBA season is rapidly approaching and there are plenty of early storylines emerging.
Can the Miami HEAT repeat their championship quest from last season? Is this the final championship run for the aging Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs? Will Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks finally put all of their talent together and join the league’s elite? Can the new-look Los Angeles Lakers, now boasting Dwight Howard and Steve Nash unseat the Oklahoma City Thunder as Western Conference champions? Is this the year the Minnesota Timberwolves reach the playoffs behind All-Star Kevin Love? Likewise, the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors are poised to make playoff runs of their own, but can they seal the deal? Are the Dallas Mavericks toast, or will their new group of hungry veterans surprise us all?
The HOOPSWORLD team has these questions and more all covered and you can find season previews for all 30 NBA teams by following this LINK.
Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to insure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @alexraskinNYC, @SusanBible, @DPageHoopsWorld , @stevesraptors, @TommyBeer and @YannisHW.
NBA Chats: There are two chats on tap for today, starting with Yannis Kourtroupis at 11 am EST. Larry Coon, our resident Collective Bargaining Agreement expert, will follow up at 3 pm EST. You can always find the next NBA Chat here: http://www.hoopsworld.com/upcoming-chats and if you are looking for Previous Chats try here: http://www.hoopsworld.com/previous-chats