The afternoon of December 9 could be the start of something big.
A run to the playoffs?
Perhaps, even more.
The Clippers will conduct their first practice of the new season Friday and the team is bustling with an aura of confidence that has been relatively muted over the last few years.
“It sounds like something every team says before the season starts, but this comes from my soul,” point guard Mo Williams said. “I’m being honest. There’s no way we’re not going [to the playoffs]. Obviously, our goal is to stay healthy, but at the same time we’ve got the talent, we’ve got the coaching staff, we’ve got all the qualities a playoff team needs.”
On Thursday, about 24 hours after Williams made his playoff guarantee, it was widely reported by numerous news sources that the Clippers had potentially added another piece to their already promising mix in free agent forward Caron Butler.
After what is expected to be approximately a 3-hour workout on Friday the team will run practice again on Saturday and then hold its first two-a-day session on Sunday.
“Our roster is intact for the most part. It is only going to get upgraded,” Vice President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey said. “The coaching staff is back and that can accelerate how much more effective we are going to be. I don’t want to speak for [Coach] Vinny [Del Negro], but I think practice is going to be more efficient because you don’t have the learning curve we had last year.”
While the Clippers have added Butler and second round picks Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, the rest of the youthful roster is returning. Cornerstones Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon are back. As are veterans like Williams, Ryan Gomes, and Randy Foye, all of whom arrived last season. Second-year men Al-Farouq Aminu and Eric Bledsoe have a year of NBA experience to draw from. And center Chris Kaman, the longest tenured Clipper, is back as well.
All of this makes for what looks to be one of the deepest and most exciting rosters in the league.
The well-known foundation is Gordon and Griffin, who, along with Williams, was deeply involved in organizing team workouts during the lockout.
“A lot of guys have been in L.A. playing pick-up [games],” Griffin said. “It has been productive, but at the same time we are glad to be back.”
Still, the roster is young, which opens up teaching opportunities, particularly early in camp.
“The development process of our young players will be a high priority as always,” Del Negro said. “I like where we are at, but we know we have work to do.”
The work begins Friday and while Williams may have been the most vocal about the Clippers’ ambitions, others are following suit.
“We haven’t made the playoffs yet, but we were a good team last year,” said Foye, who’s beginning his second season in L.A. “We played well in some stretches, but there were other stretches where we didn’t play as well, so I think that is our goal.”
And when Gordon was asked if he heard Williams’ stance on the playoffs, the budding star responded accordingly.
“Yeah, I did. I am right along with them, I guarantee it, too.
The Los Angeles Clippers today signed free agents Blake Ahearn, Courtney Fortson, Marcus Hubbard, Adam Koch and Renaldo Major to complete their training camp roster.
Ahearn is currently averaging 25.0 points, 7.0 assists and 1.8 steals for the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Development League. A member of the 2011 USA team that won the bronze medal at the Pan American Games, Ahearn has appeared in 15 career NBA games with the Miami Heat (12 games, 2007-08) and San Antonio Spurs (3 games, 2008-09). Ahearn has played for five NBDL teams and is the active league leader with 395 career 3-pointers. He was the 2007-08 NBDL Rookie of the Year with the Dakota Wizards and was named the 2009 NBDL All-Star Game MVP. Ahearn starred at Missouri State, where the 27-year old was named to the All-Missouri Valley Conference First Team as a senior in 2007.
Fortson, 23, has appeared in eight games for the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the NBDL this season and is averaging 17.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists. A former star at the University of Arkansas, Fortson was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team and averaged 17.9 points, 5.7 assists and 5.2 rebounds during his sophomore season. The Montgomery, Alabama native also played for BC Steaua Turabo in Romania and the NBDL’s Reno Big Horns in 2010-11.
Hubbard has played for six different NBDL teams, averaging 9.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.1 assists last season for the Austin Toros and New Mexico Thunderbirds. In his three season NBDL career, Hubbard has appeared in 121 games and averaged 8.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.0 assists while shooting 44.1 percent from the field. A standout at Angelo State (Division 2) in San Angelo, Texas, Hubbard averaged 15.4 points and 6.6 rebounds for the Rams in 2007-08 and was drafted by the Dakota Wizards in the first round of the 2008 NBDL Draft. Hubbard also appeared in eight games for CD Sagrados Corazones in Chile.
The 2009-10 Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year at Northern Iowa, Koch (pronounced Cook) is currently averaging 8.2 points and 7.2 rebounds in five games for the NBDL’s Bakersfield Jam this season. In 22 games with the Jam in 2010-11, Koch averaged 6.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists. After a stellar college career in which he averaged 11.7 points and 4.9 rebounds as a senior, and led Northern Iowa to the Missouri Valley Conference Championship in 2009 and 2010, Koch played in 11 games in 2010-11 for CEZ Nymburk in the Czech Republic,
Major, 29, is an NBDL veteran who averaged 15.7 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 51.3 percent from the field last season with the Dakota Wizards. Along with Ahearn, Major was also a member of the 2011 USA Pan American Games bronze medal winning team. Major started and appeared in all five games for the U.S. during the tournament. A standout at Fresno State University for two seasons from 2002-2004, Major appeared in one game with the Golden State Warriors during the 2006-07 season, scoring five points. Currently a member of the Bakersfield Jam, Major was an All-Star with the Dakota Wizards in 2007 and named the Development League’s Defensive Player of the Year.
The Clippers’ training camp roster currently stands at 18 players.
Of those listed, I can see only Ahearn having a shot at cracking the roster