By Alex Groberman
There was a lot of chatter at Clippers Media Day regarding who would be the leader or alpha male for the Los Angeles Clippers in 2010. It seemed to be the one question that kept being asked over and over with no player stepping up to answer it. At one point it actually became funny, because all of the media in attendance — no doubt avid Clippers followers — knew the answer.
Baron Davis always was, and always will be the ultimate key to this team’s success.
Technically, the point guard always has the edge on other players when it comes to qualifying for team leader. After all, they handle the ball the most and have to maintain a solid grasp of the fundamentals to ensure that everyone gets the ball when and where they should get the ball. Usually, a team’s point guard becomes the leader until someone with more talent and a better feel for the game comes along and takes the throne from him.
Nobody on the Clippers is capable of taking the leadership title away from Davis.
In some ways he’s the type of player that makes you want to hit your head against the wall in frustration. Davis is just so supremely talented that everyone knows he has the capabilities and skill to be a top tier point guard in this league. As the reporters stood there waiting for him to come over and take questions, a few remarked about how disappointing it is that Davis never took his career by the horns and made the necessary steps to become that player. He should be mentioned with other elite stat sheet-filling point guards in the league, yet for whatever reason, he isn’t.
And then as if on cue, Davis walked over and within his first few seconds with the media admitted that he’s out of shape. Everyone already knew that he wasn’t in ideal condition courtesy of a Vinny Del Negro proclamation earlier, but it was interesting to hear the nonchalant way Davis described it. He knew it. He’d fix it. It wasn’t a problem.
For the record, to the untrained eye, he didn’t look particularly out of shape.
As he answered question after question with the calm and collected cool that you would expect from him, it became hard to see his inadequate conditioning as that big of a hurdle for the upcoming season. Maybe he’s just that great at exuding confidence. Or maybe, like both he and Del Negro alluded to, camp is as good of a place to get in shape as any.
So with the elephant in the room (no pun intended) out of sight and out of mind, Davis’ enthusiastic way of describing how much he was looking forward to playing under Del Negro began to take center stage.
“What Coach has done with me is he’s been in constant communication, as far as telling me what he sees for me in my future,” Davis said. “I think that he believes in me a whole lot. That kind of pushes and drives me to want to become better and better, because he’s played in the league and he’s played around a lot of great players that are Hall of Famers. He continues to tell me that he wants to push me to be an All-Star level and to be one of the dominant players in this league.”
It was obvious that in Davis’ mind, coupling his new coach with some of the pieces already on the team was going to be a recipe for success.
“When you’ve got guys, [Chris] Kaman, that can come down on the break and shoot the ball. You’ve got Blake [Griffin] and [Ryan] Gomes and Eric Gordon that can get out on the break and finish; that kind of makes my job easy.
“I just want to be able to be in the position where I can be a menace out there on the floor, as far as seeing the court and attacking the defense that’s standing in the lane and get these guys easy shots.”
One of the keys to the Clippers’ success this season will be the relationship that develops between Davis and Del Negro. Right off the bat, for media day at least, it was that clear that the two had nothing but the utmost respect for one another.
Even as Del Negro discussed his point guard’s conditioning, he did it in such a matter-of-factly way that it made it seem more like an accurate observation than criticism.
“Baron and myself have had a lot of conversations, because I know and he knows how important he is to this team,” Del Negro said. “He has to be ready to play, and play the right way and play hard and be in shape. And he’s willing to do that. But talking about it and actually getting it done are two different things. He knows his responsibility and the accountability of not only himself, but all the players, and how we need to play.”
The team’s coach no doubt recognizes how important it is for their veteran point guard to step up. Davis has a long NBA resume, and there are quite a few magic moments listed in the “experience” section. He more than any other player on the roster can take this team from the bottom of the Western Conference to playoff contention.
Unlike all of the other players who were asked about the team’s leader and squirmed at the prospect of having to name a teammate, Davis handled the question with ease. With no hesitation, he looked right back at the reporters as if they had asked him the simplest question of the day.
“Coach Vinny Del Negro,” he answered with a smile.
While accounts of his so-called bad conditioning will no doubt be overblown and overreacted to in the coming days, those who got a chance to speak with Davis saw a different side of him. This wasn’t the out-of-shape, disinterested player that clashed with Mike Dunleavy last season. Rather, everyone got an excited, eager Davis who saw his Clippers doing big things in 2010 and knew he would be the player leading them to the finish line.
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