Last season, the Clippers quickly put together a team that led by All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin made it to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.
This season, the excitement about how good the 2012-13 Clippers could be was palpable after listening to many of them Friday at the team’s media day.
“I know every night we’re going to have an opportunity to win a basketball game with this team,” Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. “And that’s a good feeling.”
Paul and Griffin are back and the Clippers re-signed guard Chauncey Billups. They also added Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford, both of whom have won the NBA’s sixth man of the year award, plus Grant Hill, who has started most of his career at small forward.
In addition, they have third-year point guard Eric Bledsoe, and experience coming off the bench with Ronny Turiaf, Matt Barnes, Ryan Hollins and Willie Green.
When the Clippers start the first of two-a-day practices Saturday, they’ll get a chance to see just how good their bench will be.
“As far as being deep all the way through, it’ll be the deepest team that I’ve ever played for,” said Billups, a 15-year veteran who has played on seven NBA teams.
Odom will be a big part of that because he’ll be the first big man off the bench as the backup to Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan.
After he was traded from the Lakers to the Mavericks last season, Odom had the worst year of his career in Dallas, averaging career-lows in points (6.6) and rebounds (4.2). He was sent home by the Mavericks before the season was over.
Odom said Friday that he is ready to play basketball again at a high level.
“Sometimes in order to do what we want or to do, what we expect of ourselves, to make good decisions, sometimes we have to be in that happy place,” Odom said. “You’ve got to be in the right place mentality. I’m in that place.”
Injuries are another issue for the Clippers.
Billups is still recovering from surgery on his torn left Achilles’ tendon. As for the prospect of his playing on opening night, Oct. 31, Billups said, that is “not going to happen, I’m sure.”
He hasn’t been cleared yet to play five-on-five. But Billups said he expects to take part in limited team drills Saturday and to be playing sometime in December.
“I’m going to listen to my body,” Billups said. “When it tells me I’m ready to get back out there, that’s when I’ll be back out there.”
Meanwhile, Griffin said he’s 100% after surgery in July for torn cartilage in his left knee and that he has no restrictions.
Paul, who had surgery in August for a torn ligament in his right thumb, said he “will be ready” for opening night. He has been cleared for non-contact practice starting Saturday and is expected to be begin full-contact practice in about two weeks.
During the off-season the Clippers hired shooting coach Bob Thate to work with their players, especially Griffin and Jordan.
Thate has tutored Griffin and Jordan on their shooting and free-throw shooting all summer.
“It’s not one of those things where I’m going to be a great shooter overnight,” said Griffin, who shot 52.1% from the free-throw line last season. “But I think I have the tools and I’ve got to keep working and keep practicing the right way.”
Jordan, who shot 52.5% from the free-throw line last season, said that “it has improved” after working with Thate.
“I’m working with him every day,” Jordan said. “I’m just going to continue to get better at it.”