By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
Posted Oct 14 2010 7:53PM
There is a rare uncertainty in Baron Davis' tone, an uncommon doubt that appears in the words and demeanor of a player who has never been short on emotional energy, a player with a swagger that is practically tangible, a player who has always embraced standing at the center of drama.
He knows his production at point guard will be the difference between the Clippers reaching the success within reach or stacking another disappointing season on the pile.
"Absolutely," Davis agreed. On that there is no doubt.
But then he is asked about his confidence on being able to deliver.
"So, sort of confident?"
"We'll see," Davis repeated.
"I'm sensing hesitation."
"Probably. You should."
"Where does the hesitation come from?"
"There's no reason to talk about it," Davis said. "We'll see. We'll see."
This is the linchpin to the hopes of the 2010-11 Clippers?
This is the point guard who will orchestrate an offense full of potential while all others, even in their own Lakers-loving city, ready with the familiar claim of same 'ol Clippers?
This is him. And this is not good.
Or is it?
"He and I have known each other for 15 years," said Neil Olshey, the new vice president of basketball operations. "Baron likes the idea of the mystery and the underdog and coming from behind and everyone counting us out. I think it was really important last year for the marketplace that Baron really had to talk a big game for us about leading us back to the playoffs. Right now, I think the fact that he's underselling it shows that he has actually more confidence in the roster than he did last year, when he was probably more of a vocal advocate of what he was trying to do."
So it is not necessarily a supremely self-assured man showing doubt, a stage veteran comfortable in the spotlight ducking responsibility. It is, though, a different Davis at a critical juncture, as if his words and actions wouldn't be under enough scrutiny anyway.
The outcome will be the funnel for everyone's credibility, that's all. Certainly his own, after returning to his hometown in 2008 and failing to transfer the emotional and playmaking burst of the sometimes-magical Warriors run. And Mike Dunleavy, the coach and general manager at the time who signed Davis to the five-year, $65-million contract that makes Davis virtually untradeable (though in Dunleavy's defense he saw a future of Baron and Elton Brand before negotiations with Brand collapsed).
More recently, it became about the new coach, Vinny Del Negro, and the new personnel boss, Olshey, neither of whom will face blame if Davis proves incapable of rising to meet the moment. There they were on Sept. 27, telling Davis in a private meeting they were going to reveal he was out of shape for the start of camp. The new faces of basketball operations wanted to give Davis the professional courtesy rather than have him hear about it from a reporter, but they were not going to cover for him. If someone began asking questions about why the starting point guard was sitting out drills the opening practices of the season, the Clippers weren't taking the time to concoct a cover story.
"He was right," Davis said of the comment within the comment by Del Negro. "He was right and there's nothing I could say. Just work hard and try to have the best season of my career."
This is how they will move forward for the latest Clippers fresh start. Davis will be held accountable at new levels as part of a renewed emphasis on atmosphere after the poor locker-room chemistry of 2009-10, and he'll go along with it.
There is the obvious risk involved: they have no one to take over if Davis plays poorly and the hierarchy tries to hold him accountable then, too. Eric Bledsoe is an intriguing rookie, a point guard overlooked by fans because he played at Kentucky and the Wildcats had a guy named John Wall at the position. But Bledsoe isn't close to threatening Davis' starting spot.
Davis is it. The Clippers have center Chris Kaman coming off an All-Star campaign, a shooting guard in Eric Gordon coming off an important role for victorious Team USA and a potential-laden power forward in Blake Griffin. But no one knows what to expect from the highest-paid player who will have the ball in his hands the most.
"We're going to go as Baron goes," Olshey conceded.
Said Del Negro: "Baron has a huge responsibility. He knows that, we know that. We have to continually make him accountable. He's been putting in a lot of great work. He's excited about the season. It's not a one-man team. It's a team. You need the whole group."
But can the Clippers truly have a good season, even with other success stories in the opening lineup, if Davis does not?
"Yes, we can win," Del Negro said. "We can't, probably, win as consistently."
They'll see, in other words.
BLAKE'S ALL BETTER
Indications are he is 100-percent healthy after losing all last season to a knee injury. Griffin making an immediate impact is a tremendous boost.
Another season of internal discord to match the bad atmosphere of 2009-10 becomes a big setback in trying move forward.
The Clippers have a good starting lineup, but few of the reserves have proven NBA dependable and ready to fill a void.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
LAST YEAR: 29-53, 3rd in Pacific
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2009-10 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2009-10 Stats|
BARON DAVIS, GUARD
15.3 PP | 3.5 RPG | 8.0 APG
At least the durability issue is starting to fade – he has played at least 75 games two of the last three seasons.
ERIC GORDON, GUARD
16.9 PPG | 2.6 RPG | 3.0 APG
Finally getting deserved national attention after a meaningful contribution in the United States’ gold-medal run in the world championships.
RYAN GOMES, FORWARD
10.9 PPG | 4.6 RPG | 1.6 APG
The Clippers hope the free-agent acquisition who spent the previous three seasons in Minnesota will supply perimeter shooting, experience and durability.
BLAKE GRIFFIN, FORWARD
Had enough impressive moments during exhibition play to address doubts about whether the knee injury of 2009 will reduce his athleticism.
CHRIS KAMAN, CENTER
18.5 PPG | 9.3 RPG | 1.6 APG
Made the All-Star team in 2009-10 and, in another important statement, played 76 games after just 31 and 56 the previous two seasons.
|Al-Farouq Aminu||6-9||215||F||Lottery pick from Wake Forest will have to play his way into the opening lineup.|
|Eric Bledsoe||6-1||195||G||Impressive athleticism and attitude, but needs experience at the point after playing shooting guard in college.|
|Rasual Butler||6-7||215||F||Set Clippers records for three-pointers attempted and made, and established career high in scoring (11.9).|
ADDED: Al-Farouq Aminu, Willie Warren, Ryan Gomes, Randy Foye, Brian Cook, Craig Smith
LOST: Drew Gooden, Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw
BARON DAVIS, GUARD
There's no getting around it. Vinny Del Negro is the new coach coming off a roller-coaster two seasons in Chicago, Neil Olshey is the new personnel chief, Al-Farouq Aminu is working under the microscope of a lottery pick and Blake Griffin will get long stares in his comeback season, but the Clippers go as far as Davis' play gets them.
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