If you see the back lot of Santa Barbara City College’s Sports Pavilion this week, you might think it looks like 50 Cent’s driveway – and your guess would actually not be that far off.

Yes, the “baller” lifestyle is in full effect this week as the NBA makes its annual stop in Santa Barbara where the Los Angeles Clippers are holding training camp at SBCC for the third straight season. Santa Barbara is a welcome change of environment for the Clippers, as they just returned from Moscow, Russia where they participated in two exhibition games against Russian professional teams.

“We’re definitely glad to be in Santa Barbara,” power forward Elton Brand said. “This is like home to us; we love it now.”

Training camp will be much more relaxed for the Clippers here in Santa Barbara, as their schedule in Moscow included NBA Cares community service programs, personal appearances, practices and the exhibition games. Compound that with a drastic time change and horrific traffic in Moscow and it was a complicated trip for the team when the main goal was to prepare for the season.

“It was a great opportunity to see the country and the sights, the food and everything else, but for us we didn’t really have that much free time when we were there,” Clippers Head Coach Mike Dunleavy said. “We didn’t get a chance to really experience it; it’s not a glamorous trip – Santa Barbara is a little bit easier for us.”

A trip halfway around the world prior to training camp is not exactly considered normal for NBA teams, so getting behind may become a concern.

“It definitely made training camp a little more difficult,” Brand said. “But I don’t think we’re behind at all because we started a little early, so hopefully we can catch up.”

Dunleavy lamented not being able to get as much practice in during the trip as he would like. Under the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, a rule exists that only allows two-a-day practices in the first six days of training camp, and despite the special circumstances of the trip to Russia, Dunleavy can no longer require his team to do two-a-day practices. However, not everyone is as sad about it as the veteran head coach.

“There’s like a NBA rule where the first six days you’ve got to get them done, so we can’t do them here which is awesome,” center Chris Kaman said.

One strenuous practice a day will have to do for the Clippers, as they try to get into shape for the regular season. The team welcomes back most of its core group from last season which made a surprise postseason run, beating the Denver Nuggets in the first round and taking the Phoenix Suns to six games in the conference semifinals. It was the first time since 1997 that the Clippers made the playoffs, and the five-game series win over Denver marked the first time in 30 years that the franchise had won a playoff series.

This season, the Clippers will set out to prove that last season was no fluke and that this is truly a new era for the team, which in the past has been so often lampooned as “Los Angeles’s other team.” The 2006 training camp marks the first in recent memory where the questions being asked are not about the draft lottery, but about the playoffs.

That must be where the sense of humor comes from. When asked what he gained from his trip to Russia, Dunleavy quipped, “Some vodka.”

The Santa Barbara spirit indeed.