By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
Posted Oct 16 2012 2:05PM
LOS ANGELES -- One of his stars didn't practice that day while recovering from thumb surgery. Another was working back to his springy self but coming off knee surgery. And a potential starter sat while rehabbing after surgery on an Achilles' tendon.
Of course Vinny Del Negro was getting quizzed about the health of the Clippers.
It didn't matter that it was the first weekend of the first training camp with the core of the opening lineup together, long before anything counts for real. It didn't even matter that the team has a clichéd history of players and injuries. Whatever knee ligaments got the Cuisinart treatment decades ago didn't matter.
The topic is inescapable. Chris Paul: thumb. Blake Griffin: knee (again). Chauncey Billups: Achilles'. That's 60 percent of the possible preferred starting lineup, depending on whether Del Negro would have gone with Billups or newcomer Jamal Crawford at shooting guard.
That reality is inescapable, too. No team's success is as tied to good health as the Clippers' is.
Every club is dependent on the fates, but no one so needs existing injuries to pass the test of a regular season. Even Griffin, who got his knee done in July -- more than enough time -- needs to show that a second surgery on the same left knee in about 2 ½ years can withstand a serious pace.
"I feel good," he said. "I'm really just getting up and down, getting in better shape. Training camp, it's not one of those times I'm really working on a lot of things except defense. But as we slow down, as we get closer and closer to the regular season, I feel like I'll be closer to where I feel completely comfortable."
In a sign of how much has changed for the Clippers in a few years, the injury issue is also an opportunity to highlight a glowing positive. They are a deep team, so deep that Del Negro will at least have dependable options if his backcourt isn't at full strength early. That's the other way L.A. is set apart from the NBA crowd.
Making the argument of having the best depth in the league to actually earning the distinction will tilt on whether the Clippers get Lamar Odom as he was last season or as he was when he played a critical part of the Lakers consistently ruling the West. Will he be the emotional player so detached that Dallas officials finally sent him home last season, or the versatile Sixth Man of the Year he was with the Lakers the year before?
Again, the concern can be a positive. Odom back in Los Angeles in a hoped-for relocation, Odom needing to be especially focused in a contract season -- that's easily a risk worth the Clippers taking, especially if the relationship is a connection and he stays as a free agent.
"If there's certain guys that are going to be on minute restrictions [early in the season], then we'll figure it out," Del Negro said. "But we have good depth this year so we have other guys to go to."
Caron Butler and Grant Hill at small forward, with a chance for Matt Barnes there as well. Eric Bledsoe and Paul at point guard. Crawford and Billups at shooting guard. Griffin and Odom at power forward. DeAndre Jordan with some combination of Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins behind him at center.
The Clippers' biggest worry is that they'll need all that depth.
"Chauncey's worked hard and he looks good," Del Negro said. "Blake's fine. Chris is going to be fine. We've just got to hopefully stay as healthy as possible through training camp, get everybody back. It's always a concern, but you really can't control it. It's a physical game and things are going to happen. Hopefully we'll have some good luck with that and move forward."
1. It's hard to imagine a better locker room in the league, and not just this season. Hill, Billups, Paul -- that's a ton of leadership depth. And others are known for being hard workers and solid citizens even if they don't step up as voices behind the scenes. Griffin is a good example.
2. Del Negro begins the season under intense scrutiny. While there was pressure to win last season, it's nothing compared to what he faces in 2012-13. Management didn't put this roster in place to be patient with it.
3. Jordan has shown the potential to be a defensive star. The time has come to permanently step into the role and be the difference maker the Clippers, and much of the league, has seen coming since 2010.
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LAST YEAR: 40-26, 2nd in Pacific
FINISH: Lost in Western Conference semifinals
2011-12 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2011-12 Stats|
CHRIS PAUL, POINT GUARD
19.8 PPG | 3.6 RPG | 9.1 APG
A bum thumb has been surgically repaired, he won't be learning a new roster on the fly, he has plenty of depth to work with ... just imagine what CP3 can do if everyone stays healthy.
CHAUNCEY BILLUPS, SHOOTING GUARD
15.0 PPG | 2.5 RPG | 4.0 APG
Sidelined after 20 games last season with a ripped Achilles, the Clippers are looking forward to a healthy Bullups providing leadership and savvy play in the clutch.
CARON BUTLER, SMALL FORWARD
12.0 PPG | 3.7 RPG | 1.2 APG
Coming off his worst-shooting season in a decade (40 percent), Butler needs to get back on track to help this team be all it can be -- or Grant Hill could take his spot.
BLAKE GRIFFIN, POWER FORWARD
20.7 PPG | 10.7 RPG | 3.2 APG
He had another knee surgery over the summer -- this one kept him out of the Olympics -- and his outside game remains a little suspect. But when healthy, Griffin is a force to behold.
DEANDRE JORDAN, CENTER
7.4 PPG | 8.3 RPG | 0.3 APG
He's only 24 years old, but the Clippers are more than ready to have the 6-foot-11, 250-pound Jordan step up to be the defensive stopper many think he can be.
|Jamal Crawford||6-5||200||G||Can fill several roles off the bench and even start.|
|Grant Hill||6-8||225||F||Will be counted on for defense, a locker-room presence and experience.|
|Lamar Odom||6-10||230||F||Back in Los Angeles, and trying get back to past Sixth Man form.|
ADDED: F Matt Barnes, G Jamal Crawford, F Grant Hill, C Ryan Hollins, F Lamar Odom, C Ronny Turiaf
LOST: F-C Reggie Evans, G Randy Foye, F Ryan Gomes, F Kenyon Martin, F Bobby Simmons, G Mo Williams, G Nick Young
LAMAR ODOM, F
The Clippers have completely retooled their bench, and Odom could be the integral playmaker of their revamped second unit. Odom, in his second stretch with the Clippers, will need to revert to his Lakera ways after a disastrous stint with the Mavs.
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