LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul went through basketball drills without a protective brace around his right thumb for the first time Monday, and said he anticipates playing in at least one preseason game and being ready for the Clippers' season opener Oct. 30 versus the Memphis Grizzlies.
"Today was the first day they actually allowed me to shoot layups, so today was the best day ever," Paul told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "I hope I get a preseason game in before the season. I probably have to start off the season wearing a brace, but I get to wear the brace less and less. I wear it when I go to sleep, but I'm on track. I go to rehab every single morning at 6:30 a.m."
Paul underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb last month after injuring it during Team USA's training camp in Las Vegas back in July.
"The scariest part was when I injured it in Vegas. During the 30-minute ride to the hospital, me and some of the Team USA staff were acting like we were riding to a funeral," Paul said. "The worst thing they would have told (me) is I wouldn't have been able to play. So when it came back and they told me I was going to have to have surgery, I said I'm going to tape it up. I wasn't going to miss the Olympics. I wasn't going to miss it."
Paul already had to watch two of his teammates -- Chauncey Billups and Blake Griffin -- miss out on the Olympics due to injuries. Billups suffered a torn left Achilles tendon in February that has sidelined him for nine months, while Griffin underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair the medial meniscus tear of his left knee he suffered during Team USA's training camp in Las Vegas.
"It was tough," Paul said. "When Chauncey got injured in Orlando last season, I was in tears. I was in the locker room in tears just because I know how hard he works and how much he loves to play, and I also thought about the Olympics. And then when Blake got hurt, that really tore me down because I thought it was going to be pretty special to have a teammate there. This season we could have talked about playing in the Olympics, but everything happens for a reason, and I think Blake had an opportunity to rest up."
Paul spoke during a GQ event in Los Angeles to celebrate his being on the cover of the October issue of the magazine. The event was attended by Paul, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler, Matt Barnes, coach Vinny Del Negro and several others from the Clippers' staff and front office.
When Paul began listing the names of the players the Clippers acquired in the offseason -- beginning with Lamar Odom, Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill, and more recently, Barnes, Ronny Turiaf, Ryan Hollins and Willie Green -- a big smile came over his face.
"I just get excited thinking about it," Paul said. "I don't think I've been this excited going into a season in a long time. Not just from a basketball aspect, but I love the guys. These are genuinely great guys, and I'm excited."
Paul said he also was touched that veterans such as Billups and Hill would essentially sign their last contracts with the Clippers and make one last run at a ring with him.
"It's a humbling experience because I love these guys and I love being around them," Paul said. "They're great basketball minds. These are guys that I've watched for years and years. These are guys that are fighters. At the end of the day, I always tell people that talent doesn't go too far. You could have the most talented team in the world, but you really got to have that bond and team camaraderie; I think our team has the opportunity to be special. Obviously we have to take it one step at a time, but I love the fight in our locker room."
The Clippers' offseason was upstaged in Los Angeles by the offseason of the Los Angeles Lakers, who were able to land Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Antawn Jamison. Paul, though, thought the Lakers' additions were great for the city and the NBA.
"I think it's just great for L.A.," Paul said. "I think the L.A. fans here are going to have something special. It's nice to have two teams here that are pretty good. I think it's just exciting for the game, and I can't wait. We have to focus on our team, but I watch games every night, so I'm always going to be watching to see what's going on. They're obviously in our division, so I always have my eye on everything going on."
Paul raised some eyebrows last week when the GQ story came out, and he was quoted as saying the Clippers "had the better pieces" compared to the Lakers and that "winning with the Clippers would be legendary." He stood by the comments Monday night.
"It's no secret; everybody in my family knows I wanted to go to the Clippers," Paul said. "I may be different in a way, but I've always jumped at the opportunity to do something that's never been done, and here with the Clippers with Blake and DJ and adding these pieces and stuff like that, I'm excited about the opportunities there."
Paul passed on a chance to sign a three-year, $60 million extension with the Clippers this past summer but can sign a five-year, $108 million extension next summer. He said he will wait until next summer to make a long-term commitment but said he loves Los Angeles and wants to win a championship with the Clippers.
"I always look at it as a challenge; coming off the Olympics makes me hungrier," Paul said. "It makes me hungrier knowing I haven't won a championship. I want to do that not only for me but for my teammates and Clippers fans everywhere. I'm just going to go out there and continue doing what I've been doing and having fun, but I love it here."