For every nifty acquisition the Los Angeles Clippers made this offseason, their fellow Staples Center tenants made one worth two or three. The Lakers saw the Clips’ Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford and raised then with Steve Nash. Grant Hill? Matt Barnes? Ronny Turiaf? Nice, but say hello to Dwight Howard.
In their uncharacteristic attempt to close the gap between them and their more decorated in-house rivals, the Clippers got within one game in the standings. The Lakers seem to have stepped on the gas, Finals or bust, but that just means the Clippers will aim higher. Snipe higher, too.
Veteran Chauncey Billups could claim he was only honoring sports protocol, but he seemed to take a swipe at the market’s “other” NBA team when he said: “When you’re trying to compare and get better – and we want to try and win the Western Conference and have a chance to play for the whole thing – you compare yourself to the Western Conference champ, and that’s not the Lakers.”
It’s on in L.A.
Guy on the spot as camp begins: Chauncey Billups. It’s not that Billups has anything to prove, not after 15 seasons, five All-Star Games, an NBA title and a Finals MVP trophy. But he’ll receive extra scrutiny because of his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon. It gave way 20 games into the season and ever since, the now-36 Billups has been playing “Beat The Clock” in his rehab. Initial prognosis? Eight months, which would have him available in early December. He’s been working out on the court and might make or beat that.
What the Clippers need to work on: Development of their bigs. Look, Blake Griffin is a lot more famous for his dunks and YouTube moments than for the refinement of his game. He needed to become more proficient from mid-range even before the meniscus tear that bumped him from the London Olympics. Then there’s DeAndre Jordan, who signed a $43 million contract prior to the season but wound up watching journeyman Reggie Evans take his minutes. If Jordan thought there was pressure with Andrew Bynum playing center in the same town, wait till he sees the head-to-head matchup breakdowns vs. Howard.
Who could surprise: Willie Green. Green chose a roster already crowded with veterans when he worked out his sign-and-trade deal from Atlanta, but the 31-year-old combo guard could log substantial minutes while Billups finishes his rehab. In his bench role last season, Green hit an impressive 44.2 percent of his 3-pointers, a weapon that could keep him on the floor in a season-long role, even with the backcourt crowd.