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BILL PLASCHKE

Clippers continue to make smart moves

It's not the same old Clippers. The team has had a productive summer, getting Blake Griffin to sign to five more years, retaining Chauncey Billups and bringing in Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford.

July 10, 2012|Bill Plaschke
  • Handing a five-year contract extension to Blake Griffin is the latest smart move by the Clippers this offseason.
Handing a five-year contract extension to Blake Griffin is the latest smart… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

For years, it was an organization defined by a crazy owner, his careless vision and caustic misfortune.

For years, even during their rare brushes with success, they were viewed not as an actual basketball team, but as a comedic product of a strange man's obsession, a parlor trick trotted out 82 times a years to entertain family and friends.

They were never just "The Clippers," right? They were always, "Donald Sterling's Clippers," with that villainous prefix defining their perception and determining their future.

PHOTOS: Lamar Odom through the years

All of which has made this summer so interesting, because while I've heard the Clippers mentioned nearly every day, I haven't heard the owner's name once. I haven't heard their general manager's name once, either, perhaps because they don't have one.

I haven't heard the word, "curse." Nobody has brought up the words, "Benoit Benjamin." Heck, I haven't even heard a peep from Clipper Darrell.

When it comes to the Clippers, I've only heard about the actual basketball team known as the Clippers. And for the first time in their 28 years here, that has been enough.

The Clippers, enough to convince Blake Griffin to sign to a five-year contract extension.

The Clippers, enough to bring back Lamar Odom to a city where he should again flourish.

The Clippers, enough to convince Chauncey Billups to stick around while convincing Jamal Crawford to sign up, two pieces that make them better.

You want continuity? The Clippers exercised the one-year option on Coach Vinny Del Negro even though they are still not sure he is the long-term answer.

You want consistency? For a moment, I thought the Clippers would be devious enough to jump into the Dwight Howard trading sweepstakes and acquire the Brooklyn Nets' MarShon Brooks so Howard could go to Brooklyn. That deal is probably dead, but it's interesting that the Clippers would try to deprive the Lakers of Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.

Though everyone thought that the Clippers became a changed organization during last season's carnival ride, remember that most of their players sort of fell into their laps. How hard was it to draft Griffin first? How hard was it to pick up Paul from an organization desperate to give him away?

The real test of the organization's new culture was this summer. Could they keep their stars? Could they attract new stars? Did they care about getting better? The answer to all three questions has been the sort of "yes" that has resounded throughout a league where, suddenly, a future Hall of Fame player like Ray Allen was actually going to visit the Clippers before he was informed he was no longer needed.

It's an entirely new world in Playa Vista, so much that at least one Laker has even been spotted using their practice facility for pickup games. It's going to be the same crazy world at Staples Center this winter, with every Clippers game predicted to sell out.

It's such a new world, the Clippers have thus far eliminated their long-contentious position of general manager — Elgin Baylor and Neil Olshey were always fussing with someone — and are handling the basketball affairs with Del Negro, team President Andy Roeser, and director of player personnel Gary Sacks. Although nobody from the organization could comment during the NBA blackout period, it appears they may never have a traditional general manager again. Considering all their front office trouble in the past, can you blame them?

At this point, the Clippers are still not better than the Lakers, not with Steve Nash joining Kobe Bryant's backcourt. But very soon, if the Lakers don't acquire Howard, the Clippers could easily be the best team in town.

Can DeAndre Jordan, who has supposedly been working out with coaches nearly every day since the end of the season, grow up into a full-time center? Can Griffin move beyond his the dunk-over-the-family-car reputation and develop enough moves to become a full-time power forward?

And, of course, Paul has to stay. That is the one move the Clippers understandably could not make this summer. That is the one move they have to make by next summer.

Paul smartly did not take their maximum three-year, $60-million extension offer now because he is eligible for a five-year, $108-million extension from them next year. Though he will be a free agent at that point, nobody else can offer him that sort of big deal, so he is basically the Clippers' to lose.

This summer, the organization has made the moves to make it clear that they don't want to lose him. By next year, it would be an upset if they did.

Turns out, the biggest thing that has happened to the Clippers this summer is something that has not happened at all.

Everyone who keeps waiting for Donald Sterling to screw this up? We're all still waiting.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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