Posted Jul 17 2012 6:55PM - Updated Jul 18 2012 8:08AM
LAS VEGAS -- This clinches it.
Blake Griffin was drafted there. He had no choice. He had to be a Clipper.
Chris Paul was traded there. He had some choice, because Paul, saying at the time that he would not consider an extension, would have scuttled the deal. But the Clippers could have pushed ahead anyway and acquired the All-Star point guard without his approval. He would have had to be a Clipper.
Chauncey Billups was claimed there. He had no choice. He had to be a Clipper when they put in the winning amnesty bid.
Grant Hill, though, is different. Image-boosting different.
He was a free agent attracting interest from other teams, including the Lakers just after they had acquired his friend Steve Nash. But Hill chose the Clippers on Tuesday. The arrival is the news, but the method is the key. To repeat: Hill chose the Clippers.
Free agents have come before, sure. As recently as 5 ½ months ago, Kenyon Martin picked the Clippers over several suitors and became a key contributor to a group that reached the second round of the playoffs and played with particular Martin-like heart and tenacity in the opening round against the Grizzlies. Jamal Crawford, on a lesser level but the subject of a lot of interest around the league nonetheless, signed last week.
But neither can match the credibility of Hill. Few in the league can, as a matter of fact. One of the best people, one of the better small forward defenders, one of the durable players, of all things, his Tuesday decision is another loud statement about the new direction of the Clippers after landing Paul.
Ramifications are everywhere. The Clippers will be deep on the court and in the locker room, with Billups, Hill and Paul all known as great leaders and solid citizens. Those intangibles matter in a season that will have even greater expectations and pressure than the last. And although that's also a lot of years on the roster, along with Lamar Odom, the Clips still have the athleticism of starters Griffin and DeAndre Jordan along with backup guard Eric Bledsoe. This will not be a slow team.
Plus, the roster is nearly set, once Hill moves from verbal commitment to official signing. The Clippers contingent came here to summer league wanting to add a wing and a big man, and now they have a small forward, before having to move down the list of possibilities to the likes of C.J. Miles. The search for a bench center will include Darko Milicic and local product Ryan Hollins as free agents, though without much spending power, or a minor trade without many assets to give up.
Regardless of what happens with the last piece, getting Hill after acquiring Odom and Crawford is a very good offseason haul, especially for a basketball operations department that unexpectedly lost general manager Neil Olshey to the Trail Blazers. With president Andy Roeser as salary-cap expert, director of player personnel Gary Sacks and coach Vinny Del Negro, a former Suns executive, the challenging moment for the front office has been turned into more forward momentum.
The Sacks situation is another of the possible ramifications. He would have been a candidate for the promotion to replace Olshey anyway, only now the success of the summer is another boost to his candidacy.
No decision is expected until after the roster is set with the final big man. Other candidates will get looks, including Bucks No. 2 man Jeff Weltman, still held in high regard 11 years after leaving the Clippers' front office.
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