With the arrival of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the rest of the Los Angeles Clippers in China Monday, any citizen of Clips Nation who remembers the team's last overseas training camp trip can't help but be a little nervous. The situation was similar. The Clippers were coming off a rare playoff appearance, and an even rarer trip to the second round. Expectations for the team were high. In 2006, the NBA sent the Clippers to Russia to promote the league worldwide. Six years later, it's China.
Unfortunately, the Russia trip was something of a disaster, and believe it or not, it became an ongoing excuse for the team's underwhelming performance that season. The 2006-2007 Clippers suffered from a Sam Cassell limited by age and injuries, a devastating injury to Shaun Livingston, a sub-par season from Chris Kaman and Elton Brand regressing to the mean -- the team finished the season 40-42, missing the playoffs by a couple of games. And invariably, throughout the season when Mike Dunleavy was asked why the team seemed to be underachieving, the subject of the Russia trip would come up.
The NBA knows that these trips cut into a team's preparation time, so they allow teams doing international tours to start training camp a few days early. This year, the Clippers started camp on Saturday, September 29 while most of the rest of the league waited until Tuesday, October 2. But with a 15 hour flight to Beijing and the accompanying jet lag, not to mention doing it all over again on the return, the extra days are more or less lost to travel and recovery time.
The big unexpected problem six years ago in Moscow was the traffic. The Clippers spent several hours each day getting from their hotel to their practice facility and/or to games, turning what had been planned as two-a-day practices into one-a-days. But that was Moscow, this is Beijing. Surely the traffic isn't a problem in Beijing, right? Hopefully at least the planning will be better this time -- like maybe pick a hotel close to the arena.
What the NBA doesn't seem to realize is that not all of these international trips are created equal. There's a big difference between a trip from Boston to Milan and a trip from L.A. to China. But teams traveling further don't get any extra considerations.
The China trip is in some ways easier, and in some ways tougher than Russia six years ago. The flight is a little longer (Moscow is far enough north that you can save time on the polar route) but the time change isn't as bad (9 hours instead of 11). (You'll see the time change listed as 15 hours, but that's like saying the time change to Denver is 23 hours. It's an offset of 9 hours from the player's body clock, which is bad, but not as bad as 11 hours.)
Then again, the Clippers stayed in Moscow the entire time on their last overseas trip. This time they have to travel from Beijing to Shanghai while they are in China. It's only about a two hour flight, but it's one more commitment along the way. Of course, as bad as this trip is for Clippers, it's even worse for their opponent in these games, the Miami Heat, who will be exactly 12 hours different than their local time while they are in China -- at least they don't have to reset their watches.
The perceived advantage of the trip is that it can serve as a bonding experience for the players. Of course, that didn't seem to be a big enough advantage to make Chauncey Billups and Trey Thompkins go.
The overseas training camp trip is a fact of life in the modern NBA as David Stern continues to take the brand global. And other than the Clippers in 2006, I'm not aware of any trips that have gone badly or had adverse effects for the team during the season. Still, bad things have tended to happen to the Clippers in the past so a little trepidation in Clips Nation is understandable. Let's just hope this trip goes better than the one to Moscow six years ago.
The Clippers have two games against the Heat while they are in China, Thursday and Sunday (really Saturday night for us here in L.A.). Both games will be televised live on NBA-TV, with Thursday's game tipping at 4:30 AM PT yikes!) and Saturday's game tipping at 9:30 PM PT. For Thursday's game, we'll set up a game thread for the live broadcast for anyone either crazy enough to get up or who might live in a more compatible time zone, but don't expect me to show up. We'll set up a separate game thread for NBA-TV's rebroadcast of the game at 11:30 AM PT, so if you want to chat about the game at a decent hour, you can do it then.