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Blake Griffin gives the Clippers hope

As training camp opens, they will try to go from the top of the lottery to the playoffs.

September 28, 2009|Lisa Dillman

Membership in the NBA draft lottery, seemingly semi-permanent for the Clippers, ended up having its benefits.

It took a nightmare of a 19-win season to get to this place, the eve of the eagerly awaited debut of No. 1 draft pick Blake Griffin in training camp.

But all things Griffin hardly will be the only compelling story line in what surely will be another eventful season. They are, after all, the Clippers:

1. The Curse of Jenny Craig?

Baron Davis showed up last season and said all the right things. But he couldn't do the right thing because he simply wasn't in shape. Is he this time? Best to watch him, not listen to him, to get that answer.

2. Culture shift

Suddenly the team with a whiff of Raiders-like rebellion is looking remarkably old-school with the youngsters (Griffin, Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan) leading the way in workouts in the gym and on the court getting ready for training camp at Playa Vista.

3. Shot clock on Mike Dunleavy

Call him Coach Under Scrutiny. It was always going to be that way with questions being raised when the position of general manager, at least officially, was added to his job title last year. Perhaps the best move Dunleavy made was his most recent one: adding the highly respected John Lucas to his coaching staff, a man who might well replace him as coach should the Clippers stumble.

4. Blake Griffin

Do you put the kid in the starting lineup immediately? Griffin might make that an extremely easy answer, and it's not going out on a limb to say he'll get there even faster than Gordon did as a rookie.

5. Cambyman's future

Call Marcus Camby a multi-pronged asset, a reliable rebounding machine and the holder of an attractive expiring contract. He had a courtside view of the team's future at the Summer League in Las Vegas, but should the Clippers falter early, his future probably will be elsewhere.

Projected starters

* G -- Baron Davis: Out of shape, injury-riddled and unhappy last season. Nice hat trick. The most culpable of Clippers, which is saying something.

* G -- Eric Gordon: Never truly slammed into the rookie wall, an admirable accomplishment in a season of Clippers discontent.

* F -- Al Thornton: Proof Thornton is truly getting serious will be if you don't see the McDonald's bag by his gear before games.

* F -- Marcus Camby: His expiring contract means the trade rumors won't take long in coming off the bench.

* C -- Chris Kaman: Dirk Nowitzki stayed home, and so did Kaman. Germany's loss in the European championship this summer may be the Clippers' gain this season.

Projected bench contributors

* Blake Griffin: Bench, you say. Let's just say the No. 1 overall pick is listed here for the purpose of this article. His minutes will be many.

* Rasual Butler: Headline writers applauding gift: The Butler did it. Good outside shooter arrived here in August via the New Orleans Hornets' effort to shed salary.

* Sebastian Telfair: At 24, this is his fourth NBA team, following turns in Portland, Boston and Minnesota. Still plenty of minutes to go around as backup to the oft-injured Davis.

* Craig Smith: Pleasant byproduct of the chain of events set in motion by moving Zach Randolph and his big contract to Memphis for Quentin Richardson. The Clippers then flipped Richardson to Minnesota for Telfair, Smith and Mark Madsen (since waived).

* DeAndre Jordan: Big 12 peer pressure comes to Playa Vista. Griffin and his prodigious work ethic can only help show the way for the raw Jordan.

* The Rest: Steve Novak, Mardy Collins, Brian Skinner, Ricky Davis. Also invited to camp are free agents Kareem Rush, Taj Gray, Anthony Roberson and Jerel McNeal.

Key dates

* Nov. 15, at Oklahoma City: Griffin's big homecoming, more or less, less than a month into regular season. Maybe they'll give him the keys to the state.

* Dec. 25, at Phoenix: Christmas equals NBA credibility? The last time Clippers played on Christmas Day was in 1992, back in the Larry Brown Era.

* Jan. 16, Cleveland: LeBron James made the Clippers vanish in the second half of their game last season at Staples Center. No puppetry involved.

End game

Nineteen wins last season, of course, do not represent a high bar of expectation. But if there happens to be more talk about the playoffs than the draft lottery in, say, mid-March, that would represent a good season for the Clippers.


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