“This isn’t my day, this is the Clippers’ day.”
In the post-Decision era, Chris Paul couldn’t have started out his first Clippers press conference any better. After he publicly put the past behind him and thanked the Hornets organization, Paul moved on to discuss the team of the hour, the Clippers. His team. He thanked the organization for bringing him in, thanked the players for being so welcoming, and even joked about trying to figure out the perfect trajectory to throw lob passes to Blake Griffin.
When asked about how it felt to be done with the process and finally be a Clipper, Paul replied, “In order to wake up from a dream, you have to sleep. I haven’t slept yet.” He then went on to gloat about the prospect of running a slew of unstoppable pick-and-roll with Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and just “lobbing it up there.” He admitted he’s on board with the Caron Butler signing. Heck, he even likes the fact they have four point guards (“The more point guards we have, the less I have to go against.”). Things couldn’t look any better from a Clippers’ perspective.
Which brings us to one of the little-known facts and keys of the Paul trade: he considers Chauncey Billups a “big brother” and claims “he’s been one of my guys since my rookie year.” If that’s the case, and both are ecstatic to share a backcourt together, the Clippers should have no problem figuring out how to make their undersized backcourt successful.
Unfortunately, there were more than a handful of Laker-related questions. One or two? OK. But at least a dozen? Too much. Even on arguably the greatest day in Clippers’ history (drafting Blake Griffin and making the second round of the playoffs in 2006 have to be included), the Lakers’ daunting presence crept over ClipperNation.
With each muttered question, it seemed to deflate the energy in the room. Really? Do we have to talk about those guys? Can’t we enjoy this moment? Why do you have to bring up the past?
Fortunately, Paul answered the questions in an appropriate manner, hinting at slight frustration but never visibly playing his hand. “I’m just focused on what we’re doing over here,” he said. “I’m crazy competitive. What makes me the player that I am is that I have to compete. I have to win.” Instead of evading the question, as so many Clippers would have done in the past, Paul confronted it head on. He wants to take on Kobe and the Lakers … and he wants to destroy them.
The theme of the evening was undoubtedly the present and the future. Paul doesn’t care about what type of franchise the Clippers were before he arrived. He knows the team has been heading in the right direction over the past three years, acquiring a bevy of young talent and currently putting the finishing veteran pieces around the Blake Griffin centerpiece. He’s up for the challenge of taking them from laughingstock to contender, and even acknowledged that that was part of his reasoning behind wanting to play for the Clippers so badly.
As media members from basically every major outlet swarmed the Clippers’ training facility in Playa Vista, Calif., the atmosphere began to sink in. I was at the training facility for the NBA draft, and the aura was completely different. Back then, the future looked bright, but not this bright.
The attitudes of Neil Olshey and Vinny Del Negro have changed (although Del Negro comically provided nothing quote-worthy). Olshey arguably had the two quotes of the night, saying “In one move, it accomplishes what Vinny and I have been blathering about for two years: To change the culture.” Later, he added “There’s no gym were going to walk into between now and May that we don’t have a chance to win there.”
About ten minutes into the presser it finally hit me, the Clippers are actually here to win. Paul is going to try and bring a championship to L.A. while wearing a Clippers’ jersey, as he eloquently put it. The Clippers now have two bonafide superstars. They’re relevant. For the time being, they’re the L.A. team that matters most.
The fantasy of having a playoff team capable of contending for a championship eludes Clipper fans no longer. Can this team contend? Sure. Will they? That remains to be seen. Either way, Paul has every intention of cutting the throats of anyone that stands in his way, including the team the Clippers share a building with.
CP3 may have left his Hornets jersey back in New Orleans, but he brought all the buzz with him to Los Angeles.