Clippers Media Day seemed to have even more optimism than in most years. Maybe it was because there are so many new players on the team (10 total), that not enough of them have firsthand knowledge of the most recent disappointments.
The first thing that stood out to me today was the team's practice facility. It is simply spectacular. Mike Dunleavy even went as far to tell me that "It's the best in the league." I personally haven't seen every NBA team's practice facility, so I guess I will have to take his word for it. However, on first impression, I think it would be hard to prove Dunleavy wrong.
I talked to Dunleavy for several minutes as he signed what appeared to be about 300+ brand new balls for sponsors and season ticket holders. The first thing I asked him pertained to his expectations for the season. With so many new players, I would think he would need about 15-20 games just to see what he really has. However, Dunleavy believes this team should be an even better defensive team than the one that a couple of years ago was among the tops in the league.
He wouldn't say for sure that he had a playoff team on his hands, but he did say he would be very surprised if they were not in playoff contention all the way through April.
You can also expect this team to get up and down the floor a lot more than in season's past. Dunleavy tried to implement that strategy last season, but he said he didn't really have the personnel to carry it throughout the season. This season, however, is different because that style of play not only suits Baron Davis, but the Clippers have more finishers in transition in Cuttino Mobley, Al Thornton, and Ricky Davis.
Speaking of Baron Davis, he was the life of the party today. And believe me when I say, if there's one thing a media day needs, it's some life. Basically, the guys are paraded from station to station taking pictures and reciting lines into cameras. Davis was bouncing around like it was the first day of school. One other observation: he's in GREAT shape. He told me that he spent all summer working out in Las Vegas to get ready for the season. And considering how much the Clippers season is relying on his health, that was a great idea.
Marcus Camby told me that he is officially over the shock of getting traded from the Nuggets to the Clippers, and he's looking forward to starting a new chapter in his NBA career--one that includes 4 different teams. Camby was also very optimistic about the team's chances, but still wanted to hold off on making any proclamations until the team at least went through a full training camp.
And believe it or not, despite the loss of Elton Brand and Corey Maggette and the addition of 10 new players on the roster, one Clipper official told me that the team will actually be more competitive than if the team had retained Brand and Maggette and paired them with Davis. The thought being that not only will the team have more scoring options, especially from the perimeter, but that the locker room will be better as well.
For as great a player and person EB is, he is simply not very vocal in the locker room. Those in the organization believe that if Brand had spoken up at different times in the past, the team would have had greater success. Now, I don't feel as if the Clippers blame Brand for their recent disappointments, but the idea is that the team's best and highest paid player should be as much of a leader in the locker room as he is on the court.
For those of you wondering what happened to Shaun Livingston, here's the deal. The Clippers actually offered him a guaranteed 2-year contract, with a player option for the second year. However, Livingston and his agent thought they could get more money from another team (Portland had been the rumored destination). But as we enter NBA training camp, Livingston is faced with having to earn a roster spot.
And another issue for Livingston will be the loss of his Larry Bird Rights. The simplest explanation is this: If Livingston had signed with the Clippers this season and they traded him, they would have traded his Bird rights as well. But without those Bird Rights, the most Livingston could sign for would be $5 million a year as opposed to $11 million if he had retained his Bird Rights. And to remind you of how valuable a player's Bird Rights are, think back to when Devean George would not give up his Bird Rights when the Mavericks were trying to make the trade for Jason Kidd.
Quinton Ross also turned down a guaranteed deal because he and his agent believed they could secure more money. When that money did not surface, Q was forced to take a non-guaranteed deal with the Grizzlies and go to camp playing for a roster spot yet again.
The Clippers open the season Wednesday, October 29th against the Lakers.