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Davis finds inspiration far from NBA

Baron Davis says he is a changed man, humbled by the joyous spirit that rose above the squalor of the slums of India he toured during a summer of inner discovery. He says the Clippers will be a new team: his. He says they just gained another assistant coach.

Some people had an offseason. Davis had an awakening.

He traveled to China, he traveled to India, he found himself. Of course he did. Davis is emotional and dramatic, beaming through the good times and scowling through the bad, often in full view, and he got the blunt-force sights that can make a man with a fortune pause. He witnessed despair that went beyond anything he saw growing up in South Central L.A. That's quite a personal impact.

The basketball impact is that Davis said he is returning for 2009-10 with a fresh outlook. Again: Of course he is. That's what a lot of players say after a miserable season, and his first campaign with the Clippers was miserable. He signed with the expectation of teaming with Elton Brand and then watched Brand bolt for the 76ers. He struggled to connect with coach Mike Dunleavy.He missed 17 games and shot 37 percent, though Davis did finish seventh in the league in assists at 7.7 a game. His homecoming went up in the flames of a 19-63 record.

The new Baron will be different. That's the perspective from his travels.

"India," Davis said. "You look at the people in a different class structure, you're in a country where it's almost like a Third World country, but the people are so great. They're so happy. They're safe, they're happy. It was just a great overall experience."

The new Baron will be more of a leader. That's the promise from his summer.

"I really feel like it's my team this year," he said.

It wasn't last year?

"No," Davis said. "I was trying to fit in and trying to figure it out. But it's my team this year."

The new Baron will be a mentor. That's the other thing about India.

Davis did some coaching there as part of the clinics and he liked it. Heading into the season, he wants to "spend more time with the coaches, figuring out what they want. Spend more time with the players, the younger guys, helping them."

More time with Dunleavy.

What could possibly go wrong?

"I'm embracing it, I'm loving it," the 30-year-old Davis said. "I'm young enough to still dominate and I think I'm in a good place in my life and my basketball career.

"I like the coaching because it helps me understand my game as well. Coaching is definitely something I probably want to get into when my career is over."

The mix of the experienced and the promising is the latest in Clippers intrigue, with No. 1 pick Blake Griffin,2008 lottery choice Eric Gordon and '07 lottery selection Al Thornton surrounded by veterans Davis, Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby. Dunleavy must decide whether to start Camby and Kaman as dual centers or put Griffin in the opening lineup at power forward from the outset and bring Kaman or Camby off the bench. Either way, making the top eight in the West is not a ridiculous consideration.

The Clippers may have finished 29 games behind No. 8 Utah last season, but that was with a team that wasn't close to their actual roster. In addition to Davis' injuries, Kaman (51 games) and Camby (20) missed significant time, while the acquisition of Zach Randolph and Mardy Collins (for Cuttino Mobley and Tim Thomas) shook up the expected rotation during the season. Nothing says plans gone awry like having rookie Gordon lead the team in minutes and second-year man Thornton finish second.

While developing the youngsters is a big-picture goal, expect the Clippers to push hard to make the playoffs this season. It's been only a year since the acquisitions of Davis and Camby, and no one makes those moves and then shuts it down after a run of bad health. There will be a decision on Camby, prime trade material as an expiring contract, by February if the postseason is looking like a long shot, but until then, Dunleavy needs to play to win now. Griffin is the most NBA-ready of all rookies, not some far-away prospect like a lot of draftees, and so maybe it won't be sacrificing to play him ahead of Camby or Kaman.

Davis is on the verge of his 10th season and isn't much for patience and rebuilding plans these days. He didn't need a trip to India to learn that. It didn't hurt, though.

"Humbling," he said. "Makes you appreciate life, makes you appreciate being in America, having the opportunities that you have. Makes you want to come back and work hard."

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