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Followup on Clippers' Training Camp

I promised you an update when I was rushed for time yesterday, and the insatiable Citizen Zhiv is not going to let me forget.  But when I sat down to write the update, there just wasn't a lot to add.  Instead, I thought I'd recap training camp as a whole, from my perspective.

As a preface, in chatting with Neil Olshey at media day a little, he was saying that Training Camp isn't really what it used to be.  A few years back, you'd have the young players (first second and third year) come in a week or so early, and then you'd have over a week of camp after the veterans arrived and before the first exhibition game.  But in the last CBA, the player's association cut that way back.  So now it's show up, practice for a few days, and start playing exhibitions.  You can see why the player's would want to curtail camp - thinking back to my high school years, two a days suck, and no one wants to go through them any more than they have to.  But it's hard to know how much can be accomplished in a five day training camp, from Tuesday to Saturday.  (The irony here of course is that many of these guys will play basketball 12 hours a day if you let them.  If they were playing pickup, at the end of game it's 'run it back, run it back.'  But when it's a practice with a coaching staff, the attitude can change a little.  Having said that, the Clippers to a man seemed to have pretty positive attitudes for this camp.)

Here are some broad observations at the conclusion of Clippers training camp.

Injuries - Because every team gets myopic on their own concerns, and because the Clippers in particular have had such a tragic history (both long and short term) with injuries, I know some of you are wringing your hands over the injuries to Blake Superior, Bassy and now Marcus Camby (who missed today's session with a sore left knee).  But putting this in perspective for the time being, the Warriors just lost Brandan Wright for 4 to 6 months with a shoulder injury suffered in camp.  By contrast, Griffin would be playing if coach let him, Bassy's ankle x-rays were negative, and Camby is pretty much just resting some sore 36 year old knees.  I'll take it so far. 

Griffin - MDsr told us yesterday that Blake would definitely not play in Oakland tomorrow.  He also said that he would want him to get a 'couple' practices in with the team before he played a pre-season game.  So for Friday's first home pre-season game, keep an eye on Wednesday's practice.  If Blake is back by Wednesday, then we'll likely get to see his Staples Center debut on Friday.  One quick aside on Griffin from yesterday's discussion with MDsr.  I asked about wing rebounding (it's a big weakness in Gordon's game, Thornton is a poor rebounder for a three and Butler is worse than Thornton).  Coach talked about working on fundamentals like boxing out, pointing out that with guys like Kaman and Camby, the team rebounding should be OK even if some of the individual numbers don't look so great.  He then went back to a theme we hadn't heard in a while - Griffin at the three.  I was surprised - I mean, when he was talking about that after the draft, I interpreted it as a means of communicating just how athletic the guy is.  Not to mention that prior to the the Randolph trade, there was an evident logjam at the big spots, so it was an easy out to say, "Well, we think Griffin can play some three."  With Randolph gone, I assumed that talk would stop, and in fact it seemed to have.  Blake Superior's natural position is so clearly the four, it just doesn't make sense to play him elsewhere.  Having said that, the versatility to be able to do so in some situations is intriguing.  At any rate, the fact the MDsr dropped that reference on a semi-related question (it's not like I asked if Griffin can play the three) tells me that he's considering it more seriously than I thought.

Depth - MDsr is clearly pleased with this part of his roster.  We've made the point before that last year's starting power forward (Zach Randolph) was parlayed during the off-season into the primary reserves at every spot on the floor except center (Telfair at the one, Butler at the two and three, Smith at the four).  Given that any Randolph deal would have been looked on by many as 'addition by subtraction' regardless of who came back, and that the first overall pick is penciled in as the starting power forward beginning some time soon and ending in a decade or so, you can see why MDsr's pumped about his newfound roster depth.  In post-practice comments every day he found a way to discuss it.  Whether it was singling out how quickly the 'new guys' were picking up the schemes (which is did frequently), speaking specifically about depth, or even (knock on wood) saying that he thought the team could withstand minor injuries this season, it was all a way of saying "We're deeper than we've been in years." 

Baron - Going into Friday's practice, I was feeling a little nervous about Baron.  Every day the beat reporters (like me!) would ask the coach who looked good, and every day he'd single out a few guys - and Baron was a little conspicuous by his absence.  Now, that's an unfair inference on my part - not saying that he stood out as looking good does not mean that he looked bad, or even that he didn't look good for that matter.  But on Friday, there were several questions asked specific to Baron, and coach is clearly pleased with what's happening in camp.  It didn't hurt the montage that Boom was dripping sweat running shooting drills with John Lucas 90 feet away at the time.  And as I mentioned, in the Blue vs. White scrimmage I watched, Baron was getting the rim with ease, and playing tough defense on the other end (he blocked a Novak jumper at one point) and just plain leading.  (Citizen Zhiv did the math on the teams and rightly concluded that the talent was stacked against Baron a bit - but I'll tell you right now, he was trying to win that scrimmage.)  It remains to be seen if we'll ever again experience the explosive Baron who dunked on Kirilenko in the 2007 playoffs (MDsr says he hasn't seen that guy yet, but that he's getting closer).  If he's lost a step, he's lost a step.  But his effort is not lacking.

Gordon - Both in summer league and in training camp, it's been interesting to see the coaching staff pushing Eric Gordon.  MDsr has always had a penchant for post isolations, and he'll run that iso for any matchup on the floor he fancies.  The 2006 Clippers that advanced to the Conference Semis LOVED to post Cassell and Mobley.  Hell, remember when the Suns put Steve Nash on Quinton Ross?  The Clippers immediately posted Ross, who probably hadn't gotten a play called for him since he left SMU (did you know that he averaged 20 points per game in college?)  But Gordon didn't play with his back to the basket at IU, and didn't post up his entire rookie season that I recall.  Flash forward to July in Las Vegas, and most of Gordon's points in two summer league games came on post ups.  Likewise, they've been isolating him some in scrimmages this week.  Baron Davis is a big and strong point guard - so defenses will sometimes defend him with a two, and stick their point guard on Gordon.  But Gordon, although not super long for a shooting guard, is even stronger than Davis.  MDsr wants to be in a position to post which ever guard he believes has a matchup advantage, hence the work EJ is putting in down low.  In addition to that new wrinkle, the Clippers also had EJ working the point some yesterday with Telfair out.  We know how good Eric Gordon already is.  I for one am pretty pleased that the coaches aren't just basking in the glow of his perfect jumper and relentless drives to the basket, but rather working with him to expand his game further still.

Chemistry - I wasn't around for Camp last year, so I have no basis for comparison.  But MDsr has mentioned it a couple of times, and it certainly stands to reason.  With ten returning players, with the training facility available all summer, with a first overall pick in the gym day and night, with a talented roster that has plenty to prove - there's every reason to believe that the team will have a much greater opportunity to develop chemistry this season than last.  Having said that, it's always possible that they could develop BAD chemistry.  After all, I did call these guys the anti-synergy team last season (the whole was less than the sum of the parts).  I suppose that could happen again.  (I mean, speaking of bad chemistry, Chris Kaman was wearing his practice jersey backwards two practices in a row - when I saw it on Thursday, I thought it was some sort of mistake, but, no, he wore it that way again on Friday.  He may have some bad chemistry in his brain.)  Working the chemistry analogy a little too hard, one hopes that Blake Griffin is the catalyst that gets this experiment going - but we'll have to wait and see them play.

The team takes the floor for the first time tomorrow night in Oakland, 6 PM tip off.  There's no TV for this one, but the game will be on KFWB 980 AM.