Clippers’ Collison happy to be back as a backup

— Back as a backup

For the second time in his career, Darren Collison is a backup guard to Chris Paul. For the second time in his career, he has no problem with that.
“You don’t find too many guards in my situation that can play the backup and continue to give a good second unit right off the bat,” Collison said. “That’s my job, making sure the second unit is doing what they’re supposed to do and complement the starting group.”
Collison admitted that he needed to swallow his pride in order to sign with the Clippers.
“It was kind of difficult in a sense where I had a chance to play for another team and try to start. That was only going to be in a rebuilding situation,” he said. “Very rarely do I get a chance to look at the teams I was looking at in free agency and say, ‘OK this team has a chance to be a contender for a championship.’
“And if I had to sacrifice my role as a starter and give up some of my aspirations and dreams just to win a championship, I’ll do that. I think that’s part of the sacrifice, that’s part of being on a good team and helping a team win and I’m all up for it. It wasn’t easy, but at the same time if it’s what it takes to win a championship, I’m all up for it.”

Clippers toughening up

During the offseason, Blake Griffin heard former teammate Chauncey Billups describe the Clippers forward as perhaps being “soft.”
Actually, there was a little lost in the translation, which Griffin discovered after talking to Billups.
It all stemmed from the pounding that Griffin took over the course of the season, with opponents pushing the envelope physically lest they end up on the wrong end of a monster dunk.
“I talked to Chauncey and he just said that at sometimes, instead of letting something go, maybe take some action,” Griffin said. “But that’s something I think I have to address at the time of the situation, because I don’t need to put my team in a bad situation by reacting or taking a punch for swing or anything like that.
“It’s one of those things where you have to address with how it comes. I’ve always been taught to always let your game do the the talking and not react and put your team in a bad situation.”
At the same time, the Clippers are well aware they have a bit of a reputation to reverse and there are few who can express it the way Matt Barnes can. After all, Barnes has never been afraid to stick his nose into the physical side of the game.
And Barnes hopes the Clippers’ efforts to toughen up aren’t lost on the team’s newcomers.
“Everyone saw the way Memphis kind of manhandled us, so to know that coming in and seeing us and playing with us in the summer they kind of knew that was on our minds,” Barnes said. “I don’t think it will be too hard for them to understand our hunger and our desire and really this is our chance to shine.
“We have a legitimate chance as an organization to win a championship, so that’s on everyone’s mind since the time they signed here — that a championship is realistic and that’s something we’re going to fight for, and anything less than that’s a failure.”

5 storylines for Clippers heading into preseason camp

The Clippers put their pieces together last year and stormed to the best regular season in franchise history before falling with a thud in the playoffs. They have a few more pieces to fit in with the core of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin this season, so can they make a jump to the elite level in the Western Conference? Camp opens today at Playa Vista, then they head to UC San Diego for five days to get the project underway.

— What will be Doc Rivers’ greatest impact?
As senior vice president of basketball operations, Rivers went to work right away and in a flurry, he pulled in veterans J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley, Antawn Jamison and Darren Collison and retained Matt Barnes and Ryan Hollins. Now it’s up to Rivers, the head coach, to make it work on the court. Will he be able to make the moves pay off the way he did by leading Boston to two NBA Finals series and one league crown? Rivers’ most important take for his players on the court is to meld them into a better defensive team, particularly one that can defend the perimeter better. And if he can somehow coax DeAndre Jordan to greatly improve his free-throw shooting, he’ll have a shot-blocker to depend on in the fourth quarter.

— What improvements has Blake Griffin made in his game?
It would have been a nice suggestion for someone to have sat Griffin down after last season, given him video of Karl Malone’s progression throughout his career, and locked him in a room for months of study. It’s no secret that Griffin could create more room for himself closer to the basket by developing a better perimeter game and his free-throw shooting needs substantial improvement after shooting only 66 percent last season. Griffin’s rebounding numbers also dipped considerably last season, and his production also went down following the All-Star break. And Rivers has already challenged Griffin to take his game to new levels defensively, and a more complete Griffin takes him to true dominant status in the league.

— How long will it take to define the roles of the newcomers?
Dudley, Redick and Jamison have made their careers from the 3-point line, but they also know how to defend it. It will now be up to Rivers to find the right combinations for what parts of the game they will be on the court to perform their duties, not to mention accept whatever plans Rivers comes up with. Collison is a no-brainer backup for Chris Paul, which should come as a great relief to Jamal Crawford and his instant offense off the bench. Hollins, Barnes and guard Willie Green proved last year that they no problem with the roles they were handed, but it’s a little more crowded off the bench this time around, even for the Clippers. Rookie Reggie Bullock will have to be worked into the mix as well.

— Is there a Defensive Player of the Year on this team?
One of the first challenges Rivers laid out when hired by the Clippers was to proclaim that Jordan could be the league’s top defender. If the 6-11 Jordan brings his game to that status, the Clippers are onto something. But it will be a chore to convince Jordan that he will have to add more than dunks and blocked shots to his repertoire. Jordan’s offensive game is so limited, he averaged only six shots per game in 2012-13. Certainly, being on the court for more than 24 minutes per game limited his rebound average to 7.2, but he Jordan has to earn his minutes because shooting free throws at a 38.6 percent clip has kept him saddled on the bench.

— Dealing with Expectations
Last season, the Clippers waltzed through December without a defeat to stamp themselves as a contender in the West. By season’s end, they were easy pickings for the Memphis Grizzlies to solve in the playoffs. But with Chris Paul back with his max contract and Rivers at the helm, they enter the season sneaking up on exactly nobody — especially at Staples Center, with their co-tenants in a bit of turmoil. If the club picks up on Paul’s will to win, they could live up to the potential they couldn’t reach last season.