LOS ANGELES -- Ralph Lawler has seen a lot in his three decades as the voice of the Los Angeles Clippers. He has never seen a team like this one.
"This November is the first time in 34 years where I thought, 'These guys can win a championship,' " Lawler said recently.
"I've really felt from this summer when they put this team together that it was so well structured. The combination of the athleticism of the three young kids they've got here between the ages of 22 and 24, the seven guys or so in the absolute prime of their career between the ages of 27 and 32, and the two great veterans, Chauncey Billups and Grant HIll. They have the makings of a terrific basketball team."
That's right, after spending the better part of three decades watching a team lose nearly two out of every three games and make the playoffs just five times, Lawler said he sees something different in this year's club.
"I had an hour and a quarter long conversation with Lamar Odom when we were in China [for preseason games against the Miami Heat] and the first words out of his mouth were, 'This team can win a championship. I know because I've won two of them [with the Los Angeles Lakers],' " Lawler said.
"If you ever heard that in any past year, you thought this guy belongs in a funny farm. But these guys in this locker room, to a man, believe the goal this year is to win a championship."
How different is that from Clipper teams of the past?
"I remember a year where the team printed up T-shirts midseason with the number 30 on them, hoping they could've won 30 games," Lawler said.
"To come from that to hoping maybe you can sneak in and get the eighth seed, to last year and maybe in 2006 hoping you could get out of the second round and into the conference finals to right now, with the season just beginning, everybody talking, 'Let's win a championship.' "
While expectations are generally high for the Clippers this year, there's still a sense of holding back among fans and those who cover the NBA.
"It's going to take a little while for it to all sink in because there is that longstanding stain that the Clippers just aren't going to do it right, they're going to screw it up," Lawler said. "But they're not going to screw it up. They are not screwing this up.
"I think fans generally here are a little bit behind the curve. A month from now, if this team continues it's great play, people will be writing and talking on radio and television about these guys being right there with the Spurs or Oklahoma City or Miami or whoever you want to name as the top-tier teams who are championship contenders."