Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro talks to point guard Eric Bledsoe during… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
The Clippers' playoff run last spring and their busy off-season of stockpiling talent simply increased the pressure on them to be successful this season.
That burden to succeed rests not only with All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but also with the man who is expected to lead them, Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro.
In May, the Clippers picked up the option on Del Negro's contract, giving him a third season as coach for about $2 million. Still, Del Negro, 46, enters the new season in the final year of his contract.
Sitting in his office Wednesday afternoon, Del Negro leaned back in his chair and said of his situation: "I think there's always pressure, but I think that's a position that you want to be in.
"My goal coming here was to help change the environment, change the culture and change the direction of the organization."
Last season the Clippers went 40-26 in the regular season and Del Negro took them to the second round of the playoffs for just the second time since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1984.
All signs point to Del Negro's leading the Clippers to back-to-back playoff appearances. If that happens, it will be for just the second time during the 32 years Donald Sterling will have owned the team. The Clippers last reached the postseason in consecutive years in 1992 and 1993 when Larry Brown was coach.
Del Negro said there has been "a little bit" of discussion about his contract extension, but there is "no sense of urgency for either side" to get a deal done right away.
"Of course, I wish it was under maybe a different situation," Del Negro said. "But I was on a one-year deal last year and I'm still here and enjoying myself and believe in what we're doing. I think all those things work themselves out over time."
Del Negro and his staff have been preparing for the start of training camp on Saturday.
He worked all summer in what Del Negro called a "collective effort" with recently appointed team Vice President of Basketball Operations Gary Sacks and President of Andy Roeser to assemble this team.
The Clippers brought in seven new players — Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, Willie Green, Ryan Hollins, Matt Barnes and Ronny Turiaf — and re-signed another, Chauncey Billups.
They also got Griffin to sign a five-year extension that could be worth up to $95 million.
On Monday night, most of the players and the team's front office attended a party to honor Paul for being on the cover of GQ magazine.
Del Negro, who also was there, said he was happy to see so many teammates supporting Paul, which he says shows the camaraderie of this team. "That makes you a better team on the court when you're able to do things like that off the court," Del Negro said.
Paul and Billups are two players Del Negro is hoping to see back on the court as soon as possible.
Paul has been recovering from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb, and he has said he'll be ready for the start of the regular season on Oct. 31.
"Hopefully it's sooner than later," Del Negro said, "but I expect him for opening night."
Billups is recovering from surgery on his left Achilles' tendon and he is "ahead of schedule," Del Negro said, and the veteran guard is expected to be ready to practice by the middle of October.
"When he says he's ready to go, he'll be out there," Del Negro said.
For all the Clippers did over the summer, their neighbors at Staples Center did even more.
The Lakers landed Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to join Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.
Those are great additions, Del Negro said, but he's more concerned about the Clippers.
"I don't really look at whether it's the Lakers or any other team," Del Negro said. "I just understand the direction and the plan and the path that we need to take for us to be as successful as possible, and put us in a position to be a consistent playoff team and a consistent contender."