Lost in the Howard/Nash acquisitions, the Clippers have had an impressive off season.
By JOE McDONNELL FS West
"It's been nothing but first class," said Hill, who will be 40 when the season begins on Oct. 31. "There was at one time a perception about the Clipper organization around the league, and it wasn't positive. But now, you hear guys talk about wanting to play in LA — and not just with the Lakers."
Hill also wanted to clear up a rumor that made the rounds and at one point seemed like it would happen — him signing with the Lakers.
"No," he said forcefully when asked about it. "I'm honored that Steve (Nash) thought enough about me as a player and our personal relationship to say he'd like me to join him with the Lakers, but I never talked with them. We're still going to be able to see each other and play in the same building; it will just be down the hallway from each other instead of in the same locker room."
Assuming Billups is healthy, the Clippers return their starting five intact:
PG – Chris Paul SG – Chauncey Billups SF – Caron Butler PF – Blake Griffin C – DeAndre Jordan
But now the Clippers have depth on the bench, something they lacked last year. Odom and Crawford are former Sixth Man of the Year winners, while Hill and athletic point guard Eric Bledsoe should be solid reserves. They'll be joined by 2011 draft picks Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins, veteran guard Willie Green and big men Ryan Hollins and Ronny Turiaf.
Where does Odom fit in? He is a big question mark coming into the season, but if he recaptures the magic that made him the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year in 2010-2011, he'll be a big factor for the Clippers in 2012. And Del Negro is confident Odom will put Dallas behind him.
"You might be a little worried about Lamar if you don't really know him, what drives him," Del Negro said. "You might think that he's not the player he was. Well, I've sat down with him, gotten to know him, talked about the issues he had to confront last year that caused the majority of his struggles — and I'm convinced he's going to have a positive impact on our team.
"(Lamar) is one of the best players in the game and can influence how the team plays and can make it better. A lot of the personal things he went through last year would have been hard for anyone to handle — especially when you have to move, join a new team, live in a new place and then try to play through everything. But Andy, Gary and I talked with him and we talked among ourselves, and we're happy that Lamar is once again a Clipper."
Odom returning to form, Billups and Griffin coming back healthy from their surgeries and Paul being CP3 again will be major factors in the team's success, but the other pieces are there as well.
2012-13 is shaping up to be a memorable season in Los Angeles and Staples Center. There could be another championship banner hung in the rafters, too. Question is, will it be Red, White and Blue or Purple and Gold?