HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — With the Los Angeles Lakers dominating the headlines in the Southland this summer after their high-profile additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, it’s easy to forget that it’s been an interesting offseason for the city’s other NBA franchise.
The Clippers didn’t make the same splash in free agency or with a trade, but they will welcome back a key figure in their operation when veteran point guard Chauncey Billups finally returns from the left Achilles injury that cost him everything after Feb. 6.
The Clippers survived without Billups, but there was a lingering feeling that a healthy Billups could have helped lengthen the Clippers’ postseason run. And now comes word that he’s healing faster than perhaps anyone thought possible, a development that is sure to bring a smile to the face of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin (who is on the mend from knee surgery himself).
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“When my body feels right, that’s when I’ll be back,” he said. “That being said, I’m far ahead of schedule.
“It’s not even like I had a summer. I’ve been on the whole time, doing rehabbing and other work every day. I’m looking forward to getting back to playing and being with the guys and resuming my normal life as a player.”
Billups became the Clippers’ glue in his 20 starts before his injury, adding poise and experience to the 14.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists he averaged over 30.4 minutes. He was a leader on the court and in the locker room, providing guidance to Chris Paul and a voice of knowledge for Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe.
Even after his Feb. 15 surgery left him to clomp around in a protective boot, he dispensed advice and analysis from a seat near the bench.
“He has very good insight, great experience and he’s been successful at every level,” Coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Some of our younger players, by the way he approaches them and gets things across, it’s very easy for them to accept and listen to.”
Billups stayed in Los Angeles most of the summer to work out with teammates and coaches, pushing himself when it felt right and easing up when necessary.
“I never one time thought I wouldn’t come back or had doubts that I would come back because I knew was going to do everything I could,” said Billups, who will turn 36 on Sept. 25, four days before the Clippers open training camp.
“Twenty years ago this injury was like a death sentence. The way the world of technology is now, I knew there were a lot of guys that made it back from this injury and I was going to be the next one.”
We felt Billups was far more important than some of the pundits expected he would be for the Clippers before his injury last season. Billups’ leadership and experience in a locker room that was largely devoid of said things before the arrival of Paul and Billups accentuated the importance of it for both men.
And we feel the same can be said this time around. The Clippers need what Billups brings on and off the floor this season, maybe even more so than last year. Expectations were greater than usual then, but not off the chains (to borrow a phrase from yesteryear) as they are now after the addition of Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom.
The rotation will be sorted out later. But it’s obvious the Clippers will have backcourt options galore with Billups healthy and in the mix with Paul, Crawford and Bledsoe, a mix that should prove to be the strength of this team.