By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
Posted Dec 23 2011 9:45AM
They sat at the head table for the arrival news conference at the practice facility on Los Angeles' Westside and splashed around in the moment, Chris Paul and coach Vinny Del Negro and the executives who closed the deal toasting the limitless future and deflecting discussion of a sordid past and some other nameless team in town.
Smiles everywhere. It was a well-deserved victory lap, too, especially since the Clippers don't get to break out the home-run trot often, and since they also beat the Lakers, the team Paul noticeably refused to cite by name, to land him.
The exhaustive process that had strained on through an unprecedented series of events that bounced from Los Angeles to New York to New Orleans and ricocheted through Houston had finally finished. Time to exhale.
In truth, acquiring Paul for three players and a draft pick may have been an exhausting process, but it's nothing compared to the work ahead for a team that just showed it can pull of a historic trade and now merely has to prove it can win at a high level with a thin roster while the bright lights are in their eyes and everyone is coming for them. Simple stuff like that.
Now comes the real hard part: Living up to expectations, and the Clippers have never done well with expectations, you may have heard. It doesn't matter that the previous failures were NBA generations ago. If part of the reason the blockbuster was such a big deal because it was done by the L.A. JV, this is all very much about the moment being contrasted against history.
Previous incarnations of The Future Is Theirs at least got to ramp up to the moment with young teams that had time to develop together and were forgiven the mistakes of youth. These Clippers will be expected to win now, if not sooner. And they will be expected to win now despite three new starters and with a training camp that would have been rushed anyway because of the lockout calendar but went through another set of knives because Paul didn't get on the court with his teammates until three days before the first exhibition game.
Talk about a fitting conclusion to a demolition derby of a trade process. A few days of camp, a couple preseason games against some other team in town, a few more days of practice, and then the season opens. It doesn't just open, either. It opens with Monta Ellis/Stephen Curry and the Warriors in Oakland on Christmas night, followed by Tony Parker and the Spurs in San Antonio, followed by Derrick Rose and the Bulls in Los Angeles.
But feel free to ease your way into things, Chris.
Of course this is about the Clippers and their past, because people have heard the buildup before. Never with this level of talent, a point guard on course for the Hall of Fame teaming with the power forward on course to crack his head open on the ceiling of Staples Center, but the 2011-12 version shouldn't be compared to the best of the Western Conference until they have proven something.
"I think it sends a message to the rest of the league that if a player like Chris Paul, who can go anywhere he wanted to and could have had his freedom in a few months from now chooses to lock himself in longer and make a long-term commitment to our organization then there's nothing we won't due in terms of resources to put around him," Neil Olshey, the vice president of basketball operations, said at the introductory press conference. "Guys like Chauncey (Billups). Guys like Blake. The guys have decided that the perception here is not the reality, as you guys can see. It started with this facility. It started with making some moves to clear the cap room, the faith that the owner had in us that we would accomplish the goals and fulfill our expectations of what we were going to do with that flexibility we had created."
Message sent. Now on to the real work and the real statement, to see if the message is received.
1. Reduce mistakes. The Clippers of 2010-11 were too sloppy with the ball, often getting sucked into the Blake Griffin excitement by throwing wild passes to the rim.
2. Veteran leadership. Newcomers Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler could have a dramatic impact in ways that don't show up on the stat sheet.
3. Ignore the noise. Chatter about Paul-to-Griffin lobs and big dunks will become a distraction if players let it.
1. The Clippers, despite their inexperience last season, are already a good defensive team, a very encouraging sign. It just doesn't make the highlight reel.
2. Win-now mode or not, the Clippers must still find time to develop young talent. Eric Bledsoe has a promising future and free agents were signed ahead of them.
3. Management has done well to manage the cap, and that soon becomes especially important with big extensions looming and the possibility of taking on large contracts in trade.
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LAST YEAR: 32-50, 4th in Pacific
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2010-11 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2010-11 Stats|
CHRIS PAUL, POINT GUARD
15.8 PPG | 9.8 APG | 2.4 SPG
The Clippers are going 'all-in' with the acquisition of Chris Paul, but his addition may have solidified the Clippers as the most exciting team in L.A.
CHAUNCEY BILLUPS, SHOOTING GUARD
16.8 PPG | 5.4 APG | .916 FT%
It shouldn't take long for the veteran point guard to pick up his role as shooting guard. And with everyone focused on CP3 and the frontcourt, Billups should get plenty of outside looks.
CARON BUTLER, SMALL FORWARD
15.0 PPG | 4.1 RPG | 1.6 APG
Butler, a former All-Star, is coming off a knee injury and will be called upon to be a spot-up shooter and reliable defender.
BLAKE GRIFFIN, POWER FORWARD
22.5 PPG | 12.1 RPG | .506 FG%
Griffin is explosive, athletic and a solid rebounder. But if he and the Clippers hope to take that next step, Griffin needs to improve his outside shot.
DEANDRE JORDAN, CENTER
7.1 PPG | 7.2 RPG | 1.8 BPG
Sure, he doesn't have a jumper and is poor at the free-throw line, but Jordan is a good finisher and solid rebounder. The other area Jordan needs to improve on: turnovers.
|Ryan Gomes||6-7||245||F||Former starter goes to the bench in favor of new arrival Butler.|
|Randy Foye||6-4||215||G||Combo guard likely sees playing time slip with CP3 and Billups in town.|
|Mo Williams||6-1||195||G||Started 22 games after arriving from Cavs in Baron Davis trade.|
ADDED: F Trey Thompkins, G Travis Leslie, F Caron Butler, G Chauncey Billups, G Chris Paul, F Reggie Evans
LOST: F Al-Farouq Aminu, G Eric Gordon, C Chris Kaman, F Craig Smith
VINNY DELNEGRO, COACH
This is no longer about building for the future. General manager Neil Olshey has declared he expects the Clippers to be in the playoffs in 2012, a reasonable statement, and somebody has to take the fall if it doesn't happen. In their world, that usually means the coach. Except take out the word "usually."
|Warren Steals and Dunks|
T.J. Warren picks up the lose ball and drives in for the dunk.
|Gobert Stuffs It|
Gordon Hayward hands it off to Rudy Gobert who stuffs in the dunk.
|Lin Puts It Back|
Off the missed shot by Ronnie Price Alex Len gets the putback dunk.
Raul Neto finds Derrick Favors who finishes with the reverse dunk.
|Knicks vs. Wizards|
Carmelo Anthony scores 21 points as the Knicks defeat the Wizards 115-104.