Getting Paul and Howard together

Chris Paul has hinted at staying in L.A., but a lot can happen in one season. Gary A. Vasquez/US Presswire

There are those in the NBA who will tell you that the Oklahoma City Thunder's greatest fear in the West is not the Los Angeles Lakers, but their gym-mates down the hall, the Los Angeles Clippers.

While I'm not ready to pick the Clippers again to win the West (as I did last season), I understand why they would fear the Clippers. After all, the Clippers took three of four games from the Thunder last season.

For example, compare their point guards: Russell Westbrook was a disaster against the Clippers, averaging 19.5 points and just 4.5 assists on woeful 37 percent shooting while Chris Paul was magnificent, averaging 20.5 points and 9.5 assists while hitting 52 percent of his shots.

In addition, the Clippers are, by all accounts, more stacked, more comfortable and more mature than they were a season ago. Chauncey Billups, who is back from injury, and Grant Hill bring wisdom and experience. Eric Bledsoe and Jamal Crawford make up one of the best backup backcourts in the league. And if Lamar Odom can find rejuvenation back in his beloved L.A., how many squads have a better front line than Odom, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan?

So the race out West is not just about two teams, the Thunder and the Lakers. The Clippers will definitely have something to say about who meets the Heat … err … the East champion in June.

But is the Clippers' renaissance here to stay?

Of course it all depends on Paul, who will be a free agent after this season.