The Los Angeles Clippers, winners of five straight, started the season hot largely because of their roster depth, but coach Vinny Del Negro might have trouble on his hands as his team regains its health when Grant Hill and Chauncey Billups return from injuries.
More bodies mean fewer minutes, and some Clippers have showed some displeasure about their current allotment. After sitting for an extended time after a fast start against the Miami Heat, Jamal Crawford received a pep talk from assistant coach Robert Pack about his reserve role in the middle of last Wednesday's game. Against Portland earlier this month, Blake Griffin had some choice words for Del Negro about sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter, according to a source. Even Chris Paul is lukewarm about playing 32 minutes a game, which would be a career low for him.
"I want to play," Paul said. "But it is fun sitting over there and watching those guys play. I like being a cheerleader at times. It is a long season."
Del Negro knows he has work to do.
"We are a deep team," Del Negro said. "Even now we are deep without a few guys, a couple main guys out. It's about sacrifice and what's best for the team. We will with those deal things as they come."
Billups, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury last February, is listed as day-to-day. He has said he could return in December. Once back, expect Billups to eventually win his starting job back from Willie Green considering how well he played with Paul last season in 20 games, where he averaged 15.5 points and 5.5 assists.
Hill is out with a bone bruise in the right knee suffered in the preseason. While listed as day-to-day, sources said the Clippers have told the 40-year-old to take his time coming back due to their deep bench. Hill, who averaged 10.2 points as a starter for the Phoenix Suns last season, will take away minutes from forwards Caron Butler, Matt Barnes and a still rounding into shape Lamar Odom.
[Related: Brandon Roy to have another knee surgery]
Del Negro acknowledges he can't keep everyone happy. That ultimately will fall on the shoulders of the Clippers' best players, namely Paul, who believes this group has what it takes to be title contenders.
"As long as everyone buys in … " Paul said. "It's not about me. It's about we. I think starting with me and Blake, if we are willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team, then everybody else will fall in."
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