|The signing of Paul from New Orleans Hornets could be a game-changer for the Clippers [EPA]|
Long overshadowed in Los Angeles by the star-studded Lakers and their 16 NBA Championship banners, lowly city rivals the Clippers have suddenly become the talk of the town following their stunning off-season acquisitions.
Boosted by the arrival of premier point guard Chris Paul and former All Stars Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler, the Clippers have instantly been installed as genuine title contenders for the 2011-12 season.
While the players themselves claim they are not feeling any added pressure, there is no question their long-suffering fans now hold great expectations, starting with Sunday’s season-opening game away to the Golden State Warriors – on a day that marks the end of the long-running NBA lockout.
“The thing is, at the end of the day, we’re the players,” four-time All-Star Paul said.
“We control what we can control and that’s the people in this organisation who are in here at practice every day.
“We can’t control what you guys (reporters) say because that is what it is.”
The acquisition of Paul from the New Orleans Hornets for guard Eric Gordon, center Chris Kaman, forward Al-Farouq Aminu and a 2012 first-round draft pick was comfortably the biggest signing in the NBA’s off-season.
Add in twice All-Star small forward Butler and Billups to a line-up already boasting the astonishing dunking talents of Blake Griffin, along with veteran All-Star Mo Williams and talented center DeAndre Jordan, and it is no wonder Clippers fans are suddenly filled with optimism.
“We really do have a great outlook but, in all actuality, we haven’t won a game yet,” five-time All-Star guard Billups said warily ahead of Sunday’s game.
“And the difficult thing is that everybody knows we should be a lot better, so we don’t have the advantage of sneaking up on teams anymore. Teams are going to be ready. We are going to get a teams’ best punch, so we’ve got to guard for that.”
The Clippers, who won only 32 games last year and have exceeded the .500 mark just once in the last 19 years, have captured the interest of former Lakers great Magic Johnson.
“For the first time, I’m going to be watching Clippers games,” the 12-time All-Star said earlier this month.
“You’re talking about excitement for the city. Wow. I mean, since that (Paul) trade everybody’s talking about both teams, that’s all the conversation.
“I think you’re going to see sellouts on both sides. It’s a great time to be in the city of Los Angeles … you’re going to be able to go see a great Lakers team and then a great Clippers game as well.”
Sunday will supply the first confirmation of Johnson’s prediction as the Lakers host the Chicago Bulls at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles before the Clippers take on the Warriors on Christmas night.