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The Clippers are CP free

September 28, 2017 - 12:05am

The name, or the nickname, was never uttered in front of the cameras on Day 1 of Los Angeles Clippers camp in Hawaii.

Chris Paul. CP3. Nine-time NBA All-Star. He of the nine All-Defensive Team selections and four first-team All-NBA picks.

Yeah, that guy. The six-year trigger man of “Lob City.”

The one who was supposed to get the Clippers over the playoff hump to real championship contention. The one who was dealt, suddenly and stunningly, to the Houston Rockets in late June for a handful of players and other assets, potentially shifting the landscape of the stacked Western Conference.

A theme of new beginnings was woven into everything the Clippers did early this week in the University of Hawaii’s Stan Sheriff Center, where the Clippers will play the Toronto Raptors in exhibitions on Sunday and next Tuesday.

When the Clippers Hawaii Classic was announced back in early June, Paul was definitely part of the allure. Now, the Clippers hope they can stay relevant in the West through greater balance.

“I think our team has changed,” coach Doc Rivers said after putting his group through a conditioning test Tuesday, a Clippers first. “I think we’re deeper. I think we have more talent than we did last year, overall. But we’ll see how it fits and how it works.”

The Clippers, featuring nine newcomers, are hoping to use their first team trip to Hawaii as a bonding experience.

Defense-minded Patrick Beverley and sixth man Lou Williams were among those sent to the Clippers in the Paul trade. They, backup point guard Austin Rivers and European newcomer Milos Teodosic comprise the team’s playmakers.

The targets of so many Paul alley-oops — forward Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan — are still there, now surrounded by a gaggle of first- and second-year players. The two friends will be asked to shoulder much of the load, although Griffin is just coming back from offseason surgery to repair his right big toe.

Los Angeles went 51-31 last year and was bounced in the first round of the playoffs in seven games by the Utah Jazz, with Griffin going out hurt in Game 3.

Griffin reported he “felt great” after the conditioning test and a walkthrough.

Looking around, he mused, “I don’t think we’ve ever had this young a team, especially since Doc’s been here.”

He, Jordan, wing Wesley Johnson and Austin Rivers are the only returnees. Former Clippers mainstays JJ Redick and Jamal Crawford left via free agency. Small forward Danilo Gallinari (who broke a thumb punching an opponent while playing for Italy this summer) was picked up to replace some of that firepower.

“I think we’ve been really kind of getting to know each other,” said Austin Rivers, the son of the coach, who last visited Hawaii with Duke for the 2011 Maui Invitational. “We’ve actually put more effort in this year than any other year I’ve been here.” He noted the team dinner count (five) already eclipsed that of all last season (two).

Perhaps it’s fitting the Clippers are feeling each other out on this trip. Hawaii, long Purple and Gold territory, is unfamiliar ground for them.

Doc Rivers acknowledged a learning curve for his newcomers.

“(The goal is) for them to understand what being a Clipper is,” he said. “And understand how we play, our style of play. I don’t know if you’re going to get it in by Oct. 3, but you’d better get it in by the first game (Oct. 19).”

But the Clippers are changing too. Paul was a leader who demanded plenty of attention — and the ball in his hands.

“Oh, big (difference),” Rivers said. “Yeah, it’s probably going back to the way I was in Boston, more. More open-floor movement. And that’s the way we want to play. I think it will be better.”

There is a Clippers Fan Fest event scheduled for Saturday at the Hawaii Convention Center. Doc Rivers said the team also will do an event with the military at some point during the week.

The Raptors don’t arrive until later in the week and will practice at UH on Saturday.

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