October 25, 2012
NBA Enemy Lines
Los Angeles Clippers
2011-12 Record: 40-26
All-Star forward Blake Griffin averaged 20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds last season. (John W. McDonough/SI)

I'm not sold on Blake Griffin's becoming the star who leads this team. Not yet, anyway. He's still too young [23] and immature, and I don't know if he cares yet about winning like Chris Paul does. The best way for me to put it is that he's not all about winning yet. Griffin gets all of his highlights on TV, but he doesn't guard anybody. He's one of those rebounders who picks five a night off [missed] free throws. He's such an athlete and so strong that he should be able to go get offensive and defensive rebounds. I know he puts up good rebounding numbers, but he doesn't dominate the boards the way he could. We all know he can't shoot as well as he should.

He has all of the tools, but I wouldn't name him close to being among the top five to seven players in the league, even though that's where he should be. He looks like he plays hard because he runs the floor, but he doesn't do all the little things -- not even close.

What Griffin can do is overpower guys to get to the rim. He gets a ton of baskets off transition and pick-and-roll. It's so hard to contain him as the roll man because he's so strong, fast and athletic. Even if you're there in time, he can jump over you.

Is he like a younger Amar'e Stoudemire? That's probably a very good comparison if you think about how good Stoudemire was and how much better he could have been for his team if he'd established his defense and learned some low-post moves. Amar'e did take his team to the conference finals, and he developed a better jump shot than you see from Griffin. Sometimes Griffin takes 15-footers that are so ugly that you're thinking, This kid is in the NBA?

The Clippers' future depends on him. You hear people talk about how good the Clippers are, but no way are they a [championship] contender, and they won't be a contender unless he addresses his weaknesses.

[Photo Gallery: Rare pictures of Blake Griffin]

This team has a lot of question marks. How good are Caron Butler and Grant Hill going to be? What are Chauncey Billups [who sustained a season-ending torn Achilles tendon last February] and Griffin [who had knee surgery in July] going to give them coming off their injuries? I know what they'll get from Paul and Jamal Crawford, and I actually think Lamar Odom is going to be fine. But I look at their roster and I see a lot of age.

The top three point guards in the league are Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and Deron Williams, in no particular order, and then you have to put Derrick Rose in next. What Paul has yet to accomplish is obvious: He needs to and obviously wants to win a championship. He's taken some teams that weren't very good and won a playoff series, but for an elite player like him the bottom line is going to be winning a championship. That's why I wouldn't say it's a sure thing that he'll re-sign with the Clippers as a free agent next summer. I think a lot of it would come down to Griffin.

I consider Paul different from other guys. Paul has said that he'd rather win it with the Clippers than the Lakers because if you win with the Clippers it's an even bigger deal. Which makes you think about LeBron James and how it's still a bummer that he didn't win his championship in Cleveland, where it would have been so awesome. So I can see why Paul would want to stay with the Clippers. But I don't think he's a fool, either. If Griffin doesn't come along and Paul doesn't see Griffin's taking the next big step, I really don't know why Paul would want to stay there. Because if he signs a long-term deal with the Clippers, he knows he's depending on Griffin to win a championship.

[Chris Mannix: What to expect from the Clippers this season]

A few years back I would have rated Paul as the No. 1 point guard. Then he got hurt, but since then he has been getting better and better. There are not a whole lot of point guards who can dominate without taking a shot, but then if you need him to score to dominate a game he can do that, too. Paul is such a true point guard and yet he could be a 2-guard if you needed that from him. Plus, he's got that leadership gene that separates him from Williams -- in that area it's not even close between Paul and Williams. Paul has been on bad teams in New Orleans and he's still been a leader. I really don't know that there is a better leader in the league. He can get on teammates while maintaining their respect.

You'll get the most out of your team because of him. He does coach the team in many ways. He's like a coach during timeouts and on the floor. To a lesser extent Chauncey is pretty good in that area. He's not as capable of getting on a guy, but Chauncey knows what he's doing. They'll be a hell of a veteran team if they can all stay healthy.

Hill [who is expected to miss the first week of the regular season with a knee injury] is obviously a great athlete to be playing at such a high level at 40. He knows how to play, he's a great guy, and talk about a guy who plays his butt off every possession. He had basically four years off because of injuries, which means all of the other parts of his body are younger with less mileage than other guys his age. He's an unbelievable defender. I thought he was good 12 years ago, and he's a phenomenal defender now. He puts out the effort. Not even for a second does he appear to care about his stats.

Odom basically disappeared last season. He definitely angered a lot of people in Dallas, and it wasn't just Mark Cuban. The players weren't happy with the way he bailed on them. Being back in L.A. will help him, and I love him being with this team because he's so versatile. He can play the 3, the 4 or the 5, and he can play with Griffin and complement him whether Odom is the center or the small forward. This team has guys who need their shots, and Odom can be that point forward who doesn't need a bunch of touches.

[Ben Golliver: Odom an X-factor in Western Conference]

Butler is 32 and showed some signs last year of getting back to his old self, but I don't know what to expect from him. They'll hope he can become a third or fourth scorer. That's where he and Chauncey could be huge for this team. Their depth is important. If Butler can't come through, Hill can start. It's nice to have Hill and Crawford coming in with Odom. That's a pretty good bench. But I look at Chauncey [36 years old], Butler, Crawford [32], Hill, Odom [33 in November] -- these are all old players who can either break down or give them a ton of experience.

Crawford had a terrible year in Portland last season, but when you consider that Mo Williams [who was traded to Utah in the offseason] was pouting all last year, you have to consider him to be an upgrade. If Crawford can get back to the way he was playing a couple of years ago and he's still healthy, he'll be a great fit.

Eric Bledsoe is underrated. He plays his butt off, he's strong and he can play both guard positions, though as a point guard he's more of a scorer than a distributor. He'll pick up full court defensively and make the other point guard work to bring up the ball. He's a hard-nosed guy.

[Lee Jenkins: Pacific Division preview]

DeAndre Jordan is overpaid [he's in the second year of a four-year, $43 million contract], like most 7-footers who are decent players. He fits the needs of his team. The Clippers have a lot of scorers, and they need Jordan to rebound and block a shot here and there. But then you saw in the playoffs that he had so many deficiencies that they had to take him off the floor. Defenses can pretty much leave Jordan alone outside 3 feet, and if he ever gets loose going to the basket, you can just foul him because it's not like he's going to make the free throws.

I look at what they did last summer, and I like every single guy they signed. I'm not a big Willie Green fan, but as a third guard he's fine. Matt Barnes will help them win some games, but he could have become a big-time money player if he didn't try to be so cool. He's a high-energy motor guy, but he wants to be the cool guy. He worked his tail off to become a player who could knock down a shot, and if he would have accepted his career in those terms then he could have been a 3 who guards people, like a Thabo Sefolosha or Bruce Bowen. But he didn't want to accept that role, which is why it's never really worked out for him to stay anywhere for a long time.

Vinny Del Negro is still trying to establish who he is as a coach. I see him get really mad and it doesn't go over well. It's not his personality. He looks like he wants to be a hard-ass, but he can't pull it off. At least he doesn't try to be hard on them very often. You can't argue with what he's done for Chicago and the Clippers, and you can tell he works at it. He's more prepared than lot of coaches out there. He's into it and the guys know he cares, and I think that does a lot for him.

It would be huge if Del Negro could find a way to strike a rapport with Griffin and get him to become the player he can be. If Griffin worked on the important details of his game, he'd be a bigger Karl Malone. They have all these terrific chemistry players, but Paul needs that second superstar to play alongside him. They'll definitely be a playoff team, but it should be a disappointment if they don't go to the second round.


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