THE ONLY thing weirder than seeing Baron Davis in a Clippers uniform is seeing a noticeably slimmed-down Baron Davis in a Clippers uniform.
The two-time All-Star, who signed a five-year, $65 million free-agent deal to return home to Los Angeles, showed up for camp in the best shape of his career. Thanks to a Jenny Craig diet that helped him shed 19 pounds off his 6'3" frame (down to 196), as well as a rigorous off-season training regimen, he says he is fully ready to revive his new team as he did the Warriors during his 3 1/2 seasons at Golden State.
"I'll never forget what [former player and current Raptors coach] Sam Mitchell told me: Every year you want to come in a little lighter as you get older," Davis, 29, recalls. "This is a new beginning for me. Last year I was able to play all 82 games. I just wanted to build on that."
Davis's commitment is good news for an organization whose two leading scorers, Corey Maggette and Elton Brand, left as free agents. A former UCLA star, Davis brings career averages of 17.1 points and 7.2 assists to town, but that production is tempered by the fact that he has missed an average of 22 games over the last six seasons with ankle, knee and back injuries; last Friday he injured his left ring finger in practice.
L.A.'s roster is dotted with proven scorers, and the addition of 2007 Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Camby (acquired in a trade with the Nuggets) gives the club a much-needed shot blocker and rebounder. The Lakers will be the marquee attraction at Staples Center this season, but with a svelte Davis leading the way, L.A.'s other team could be a surprise hit.
A rival scout on the CLIPPERS: When Baron Davis is on, he's dangerous. But I would still rate several other point guards ahead of him because he hasn't shown the sense of responsibility you need from that position.... Marcus Camby is a defensive upgrade over Elton Brand, but he has a record of not playing every night and doesn't have much of a game other than to shoot from the top of the key. Teams are going to let him have that shot and help off him to stop the drives of Davis.... Al Thornton got lost early last season as a rookie, but at the end of the year he played a lot of minutes. He's a pogo-stick athlete who is developing a good jump shot.... I like Chris Kaman. He can finish with either hand, he has a variety of moves in the post, and he can shoot the facing jumper. The worry is whether he brings it every night.... As much as I wonder about their chemistry, I also know that Mike Dunleavy is a very good coach. He's on the rigid side, but he'll bulldog them through the season.
In 38 years the Clippers/Braves franchise has never had a player who averaged 20 points and eight assists in the same season, figures that Baron Davis surpassed (20.1, 8.1) in his 227 games with the Warriors.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2007--08 statistics
ERIC GORDON (R)
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: F Tim Thomas, F-G Ricky Davis*, G Cuttino Mobley, G Jason Hart*, F-C Brian Skinner*
(R) Rookie (college stats)
Record: 23--59 (12th in West)
Points scored: 93.8 (29th in NBA)
Points allowed: 101.1 (18th)
Coach: Mike Dunleavy (sixth season with Clippers)
GOING SMALL Davis reported to training camp 19 pounds slimmer and eager to validate L.A.'s $65 million investment.
DAVID E. KLUTHO