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2011-12 Los Angeles Clippers Preview

A race to relevance that spanned from Western New York to Southern California and took close to 42 years finally crossed the finish line earlier this month when the Clippers acquired star point guard Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets.

LA's "other" franchise began its NBA odyssey in Buffalo back in 1970 as one of three expansion teams for the '70-71 season. The then- Braves played their home games at the old Memorial Auditorium (The Aud) and even snuck across the border now and again for a few games at the famed Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

The team's first head coach was Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes and its initial "star" players were forgettable names like Bob Kauffman and Don May until the greatest Brave of them all laced them up -- Bob McAdoo. A scoring machine, McAdoo led the Braves to their first playoff appearance in 1973-74 when he averaged 30.6 points per game and 15.1 rebounds.

But McAdoo's brilliance couldn't generate enough fan interest in Buffalo and the franchise found its way to San Diego in 1978-79 when John Brown, the franchise's owner, and Irv Levin, a Southern California native who owned the Celtics, negotiated a deal in which the owners would swap franchises, with Brown taking control of the Celtics and Levin getting the Braves with the intent of moving West.

By the '81-82 campaign Levin tapped out and sold the franchise to Los Angeles- area real estate mogul Donald Sterling, who eventually moved the team to Hollywood in 1984.

Over their tortured existence the Clippers franchise has had a total of just six winning seasons. In their 27 seasons in Los Angeles, the Clips have reached the postseason just four times and have won fewer than 20 games on six occasions. Under Sterling's often puzzling stewardship, the club has been regarded as one of the yardsticks for futility, not just in the NBA but for all of professional sports.

And it certainly doesn't help that they share the same building with the Lakers -- one of the most successful and storied franchises in pro sports history.

The worm began to turn, however, on May 19, 2009 when the Clippers won the Draft Lottery and were awarded the first overall pick, a selection that turned out to be Blake Griffin.

Although they had to wait a year for Griffin, who broke his kneecap during the team's final preseason game in what should have been his rookie year, the Clippers finally found a foundation to build upon. Not only was Blake a star on the court -- he had the type of personality to transcend the game, garnering endorsement deals with heavyweights like Kia, Subway and AT&T.

That said, Griffin needed someone to play Robin to his Batman and that finally arrived when the Paul soap opera came to a conclusion.

The 26-year-old CP3, a four-time All-Star and one of the two or three best point guards in the game, had requested a trade soon after the five-month lockout came to an end.

In fact, the league had already nixed high-profile deals put together by both the Lakers and Clippers before finally accepting an offer which sent promising guard Eric Gordon, former All-Star center Chris Kaman and second-year forward Al-Farouq Aminu along with Minnesota's unprotected 2012 first-round pick back to the Big Easy.

"It's been an emotional roller coaster. I'm excited to finally be here and get this thing going," Paul said. "I'm excited to bring a championship here to LA in a Clippers uniform."

Yep, the Clippers actually trumped the Lakers. The red-headed step-child stuck it to the kid born with the silver spoon in his mouth. For once Kobe and Company were the ones stomping their feet, focusing on the NBA's admittedly stained credibility in this process.

Others couldn't help focusing on the new-look Clips.

"(The Clippers) are going to be very exciting to watch, they aren't the little brother anymore," former Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal said. "They are all grown up and ready to get some respect now."

2010-11 Results: 32-50, fourth in Pacific; Missed Playoffs

ADDITIONS: G Chris Paul, G Chauncey Billups, F Caron Butler, Travis Leslie.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:

PG- Chris Paul SG- Chauncey Billups SF- Caron Butler PF- Blake Griffin C- DeAndre Jordan

KEY RESERVES: G Eric Bledsoe; G Randy Foye; F Ryan Gomes, G Moe Williams, F Reggie Evans

FRONTCOURT: The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Griffin was the only player in the NBA to average 20-plus points, 12-plus rebounds and 3-plus assists last season. He combines a rare work ethic with outstanding athleticism, something that is synonymous with virtually all of the greats that have ever played the game. About the only thing missing from the Oklahoma City product's game is a mid- range jumper, a skill that could make him virtually unstoppable.

The raw, super athletic DeAndre Jordan returns at center after the Clippers matched an offer sheet put together by division rival Golden State. A natural shot-blocker, Jordan finished third in the league in dunks last season and shot an amazing 68.6 percent from the floor.

Caron Butler, who has averaged 16.6 points in nine pro seasons, arrives as a free agent from Dallas after missing most of last season with knee problems. When healthy the former All-Star is a tough, well-rounded player that can offer help at both ends of the floor.

BACKCOURT: Paul is an exceptionally gifted player on both offense and defense. A natural playmaker, CP3 will feels more than comfortable setting up his teammates and sacrificing his offense. That said, when things aren't clicking, Paul has the offensive skills to take over a game at any time. In his first preseason action as a Clip, Paul, who is not even in shape yet, flashed what he is capable of when he scored 17 points, dished out nine assists, grabbed seven rebounds and had five steals against the Lakers.

Before acquiring Paul the Clips had already picked up veteran Chauncey Billups off amnesty waivers with the intent of handing him the keys to the young team. Instead "Mr. Big Shot" will now move off the ball and give Vinny Del Negro a playoff-tested option down the stretch of games. Billups was not happy when he was "amnestied," and is not used to playing off the ball but he has now calmed down and understands he has a chance to win here.

"I contemplated retirement," Billups told the Orange County Register. "But I think I've got a lot of career left. When I do go out, I want to go out gracefully, and to go out winning."

Whether Billups' defense against other two guards around the league holds up is debatable but having him on the floor in the final few minutes of a tight game is always comforting.

BENCH: The bench is thin up front with forward Ryan Gomes the only proven commodity. Gomes, however, is just a pedestrian guy with a solid jumper. The wild card is Trey Thompkins, the 6-foot-10 rookie from Georgia, that could be a game-changer at the defensive end if he develops.

Veteran rebounder Reggie Evans, a high-energy bruiser that's a non-entity on the offensive end was also signed late.

The backcourt is a little stronger with veteran guards Mo Williams and Randy Foye along with promising second-year man Eric Bledsoe. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if the Clippers attempted to shop Williams, another former All- Star, with the intent of adding depth up front.

COACHING: Del Negro took the Bulls to the playoffs in each of his two seasons there and improved the Clippers, albeit by a scant three games last season. This will be a true test for him. With Paul on hand, there are no more excuses in LA. It's playoffs or bust.

OUTLOOK: Eventually David Stern's blatant usurping of impotent New Orleans general manager Dell Demps will be a footnote to history. The fact that Paul could and probably should have been wearing purple and gold and getting ready to form one of the greatest backcourts in league history with Bryant will fade into the background. Instead he's part of a new dynamic duo with Griffin and hoping to bring yet another championship to Los Angeles, one that would be truly historic -- the Clippers' first.

"I can't believe I am saying this -- there is a legitimate question now as to who is the best team in LA," TNT analyst and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley added. "The Clippers have all this young talent and now they have a leader in Chris Paul. He is a great leader. He is going to force them to mature quicker. It is a fair and legitimate question and you just can't say the Lakers. It's a fair question, who's the best team in LA, and it might be the Clippers."