Andre Miller made a lasting impression on the Clippers on the opening day of training camp earlier this month. His was the only Honda Civic in the players' lot at the College of the Desert.
"That's what he's all about," Clipper Coach Alvin Gentry said with a chuckle the other day, recalling Miller's economy car next to a fleet of high-priced sedans and enormous SUVs. "He doesn't care. He's a 'shot and a beer' kind of guy. What you see is what you get. Just don't underestimate his competitiveness."
For all those reasons, and a few more, the Clippers are pleased to have Miller as their point guard this season. That mix of small ego and large desire to excel and help his team win could be just what the Clippers need to hold them together, keeping them pointed in the right direction.
Injuries and contract concerns have threatened to overshadow the Clippers' great promise this season, splintering a young and inexperienced team before it has a chance to play even one regular-season game. Miller, acquired in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer, hasn't let it happen.
"He seems to have an impact on the team," Gentry said. "Regardless of the situation, he seems to say, 'Everything is OK.' He missed some shots the other night [in an exhibition at Portland]. After the game, it was as if he was saying, 'Don't worry. When the time comes, the shots are going to go in.' "
Gentry has resisted the temptation to play Miller more during the Clippers' first five exhibitions, taking a good look at backup Marko Jaric. With Miller and Jaric, the Clippers could be deeper at the point than at any time in their history.
"Seeing Andre out there, once we put it all together, it's going to be quite a year," power forward Elton Brand said.
The Clippers are expected to introduce Wang Zhizhi to reporters today at Staples Center. The Dallas Mavericks declined to match the Clippers' three-year offer sheet worth $6 million and Wang is set to begin workouts with his new teammates when they return from a three-game exhibition trip Sunday.
With center Michael Olowokandi injured and his status in doubt for the season-opening game Oct. 30 against the Cavaliers, Wang could be the Clippers' starter.