Because of their impending trip to China to play exhibition games against the Heat on October 11th (in Beijing) and 14th (in Shanghai), the Clippers got a head start on media day and the beginning of training camp over the past few days. So while players from most other teams are telling stories about how many jumpers they took and pounds of muscle they added this offseason, the Clips are already lacing them up.
Let’s take a look at the early storylines that have emerged.
Chris Paul is still limited as he recovers from surgery on his torn right thumb. Chauncey Billups, as we’ve been saying all along, won’t be ready to start the season.
Even assuming Paul is ready to go on opening night, the Clippers are still without a starting off guard. According to Steve Perrin, Vinny Del Negro is considering his options:
I asked Del Negro later if he was planning to start Crawford until Billups is back, or if he’d prefer to keep Crawford in his now familiar sixth man role, as VDN did with Mo Williams last year with Billups out. Recognizing that it’s early and there’s a lot of time left to decide, the coach said he could see either scenario — he could start Crawford or Willie Green or possibly even Grant Hill or Matt Barnes.
No mention of Eric Bledsoe, who, as Perrin relays later in the post, has been “the best player on the court during informal off-season scrimmages,” according to Paul. That doesn’t mean that Bledsoe won’t factor prominently into the guard rotation because, in all likelihood, he will.
In fact, for all the roster spots and precious cap space spent on shooting guards with obvious flaws, the silver lining of Bledsoe getting an opportunity out of necessity is fitting for this team, this year. Ultimately, they will only go as far as the returning players take them, so even if it means Billups is sidelined until the All-Star break (and you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think that’s a possibility), there is a glimmer of hope amidst the confusion.
This is a storyline because it’s not. Having a deep roster is great and all, but it does dampen some of the excitement that comes with having promising non-roster invitees in camp. In this case, that means we are deprived of watching Marqus Blakely battle for a spot. Not only do the Clips have 15 guys under contract, but Andrew Han tells me that they are $9,000 short of being able to sign him under the luxury tax.
Blakely has been a ClipperBlog favorite ever since he came out of the University of Vermont two years ago. He’s listed at 6-foot-5, and although he was a power forward in college, he profiles as a Tony Allen-type wing in the NBA if he could ever get a shot.
Barring an injury, there’s almost no chance that comes with the Clippers this year. That’s a bummer, because he could really help. He’s an outstanding defender who can do a little bit of everything and, unlike most of the vets filling out the roster, he still has considerable upside. Teams make these kinds of decisions all the time — to go with established guys like Matt Barnes over an unproven, undersized young guy — but in general, and with Blakely specifically, teams only get so many chances to find a diamond in the rough (see: Lin, Jeremy).
The four other non-roster invites are: old friend Courtney Fortson, Chris Johnson, Trent Plaisted and Hank Thorns.
Lamar Odom: Baron Davis 2.0?
If there was one player for whom it was important to show up to camp in shape, it was Lamar Odom. Unfortunately, come into camp in shape, he did not. If you fall into the camp that fashioned him as the piece to take the team to the next level — and we all held those expectations to some degree — it’s disappointing to see him show up looking so soft.
He admits his conditioning level “could be better, but that’s what camp is for, to prepare for the season.” But even more troubling is the lack of accountability that is apparent in comments that last year’ performance was out of his control, as Kelly Dwyer notes at Ball Don’t Lie.
When Baron showed up out of shape in 2010, his teammates and even his rookie coach called him out publicly. I don’t see that happening this time — there is just too much optimism within the team — but coming off of such a dismal season in Dallas, he has opened himself up to criticism should he come out struggling again. We joke about it, but even for the best athletes in the world, eating candy all the time catches up with you eventually.
About that optimism…
The Clips got some votes of confidence from an unexpected place: San Antonio’s media day:
Every Spur also mentioned the Clippers when talking about the best teams in the West. They have a ton of respect for them.
— Yannis Koutroupis (@YannisHW) October 1, 2012
Andrew McNeill of 48 Minutes of Hell, who was also present, adds that “Pop mentioned it a few times,” and other players did, as well. It sounds as though the team that swept them out of the playoffs last year expects them to be a threat this year. So there’s that.