One day in mid-August, while Kris Humphries was having lunch in Malibu, Calif., with his business manager, Josh Ketroser, a fan walked up to one of the newest members of the Celtics and mistook him for Clippers star power forward Blake Griffin.
Humphries relayed the story to Griffin the next time he saw him at the L.A. Clippers' practice facility. As it turns out, the confusion happens quite a bit for both players.
"I came in the gym and I was like, 'Blake, someone thought I was you,' " Humphries told ESPN.com. "And he's like, 'Yeah, yeah, the same thing happens to me all the time.' It's just funny because sometimes someone will come up to me and be like, 'Blake, blah blah blah.' And I'm like, 'I'm not him.' And they think I'm being a d--- because of it. I feel bad. I'm like, 'I hope this person doesn't think it was actually Blake and I'm not trying to talk to him.' But I don't think we look alike at all. I mean, we're about the same size, the same build."
However, where they don't compare is in skill level, as Griffin is a three-time All-Star and Humphries' career averages in nine years are only 6.6 points and 5.5 rebounds. That's why Humphries, 28, wanted the challenge of matching up against Griffin and other stars, notably at his position, this summer at the Clippers' center, which has become the No. 1 destination for all-NBA pickup games. Because many players reside in L.A. during the offseason, the Clippers' situation has become increasingly attractive for its very closed-door nature -- even player reps are not allowed inside -- and full health amenities as the team's training staff and facilities are available.
Not only did Humphries go head-to-head consistently with Griffin and Warriors All-Star David Lee, but he also ran pick-and-rolls with Olympians James Harden and Carmelo Anthony. Humphries also played with All-Star Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, DeAndre Jordan, Metta World Peace, Darren Collison and Matt Barnes, among many other veterans.
Starting with Griffin, the star-studded talent on the floor helped Humphries.
"[Griffin] is a player that can do multiple things on the floor -- he's strong, he can jump, he can move," Humphries said. "So it was great to match up with him, and we had some good matchups. I also played with guys like DeAndre Jordan -- other terrific shot-blockers. It just helps your game because where I'm from in Minnesota, you'll never have that many guys on the floor. We were running on two courts, sometimes 25 NBA players in the gym. To be able to have that kind of competition is great."
Overall, Humphries' focus this summer was to go above and beyond his usual workout routine, especially after his inconsistent season in Brooklyn and finding out he'd have a fresh start in Boston. Teaming up with Rajon Rondo also piqued his interest.
"I didn't know if I was going to end up staying [in Brooklyn] or not, or what the deal was," he said. "It was a little bit of a surprise, but at the same time, you get a chance to play with a guy like Rondo, who won a championship and has been an All-Star and done all those things. I'm excited because he's a guy that plays at a high pace the whole game. He's a great passer, whether it's in transition or the half-court. I'm hoping that he gets back as soon as possible.
"I talked to coach [Brad] Stevens a lot about playing at an up-tempo pace -- get out there and run. So I'm prepared to do that. I think that will be great for everyone. We have a lot of younger guys, so I think to play at an up-tempo pace will give us a chance to compete every night."
Usually every summer, Humphries works out with three Minnesota-based trainers -- two of whom are former NBA players Chris Carr (post-up work) and Trent Tucker (conditioning and shooting footwork). The third, Jeff Rosga, specializes in fitness training.
But Humphries went the extra mile, not only playing in L.A. and picking up his Pilates and yoga workouts but also working out with one of the most experienced NBA player development coaches, Phil Weber, who has also been an assistant coach with the Suns and Knicks under Mike D'Antoni.
Weber helped Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw became better stretch 4s in Phoenix, and he took that same instruction to Humphries. First, Weber slightly adjusted a hitch in Humphries' shot: his release point was about four inches too long on top of his head. In his career, Humphries has never had a particularly proficient jump shot. In fact, last season in Brooklyn, he shot 34.9 percent on jumpers, according to Basketball Reference.
"For the most part, every time you bring a ball too far back, what happens is it's almost like you're throwing darts," Weber said. "If you pull it back too far, that's where you get a lot of streaky shooters. The further your appendages are away from your body, the less amount of quickness you have."
During their very first session together in early August -- Weber is based in L.A. and has worked with Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce in the past -- Humphries noticed the difference. He then made the commitment to put in work five days a week, starting at 8:30 a.m. and going for two hours.
"Kris had about as hard a working month as I've ever seen. He's in unbelievable shape," Weber said. "He just worked, worked, worked, and the last workout before he went back to Minnesota -- after about five weeks of hard work -- he made 15 in a row from the elbow and 10 in a row from the corner 3. Kris is transforming his game, and his belief level is starting to soar. He was playing really well over in Clipperland. I went and saw him play one day and he looked great."
Weber was especially impressed with Humphries' new step-back jumper, which will be a key weapon when he faces opposing power forwards and centers.
"For a big 5 to guard him, he can blow by him with one dribble because of his quickness," Weber said. "So if he has a step-back? Thinking of his game and the evolution of him, it was a necessity because he's got the quickness and now he can make an elbow jumper at a higher percentage. Once you can make that consistent elbow jump shot and you have quickness on your opponent, you become almost unguardable or you've just become really beneficial to a team."
Humphries' dedication to his development even showed his past weekend when he arrived in Boston, already moving into an apartment.
"This is the earliest he's ever reported to camp, so he's going to have about three good weeks of work before training camp starts," Ketroser said. "He wants to get acclimated, he wants to get to know everyone, he wants to really prove to everyone, 'Look, I'm here, I'm devoted, I'm ready to rock and roll.' That's where his head's at. He's looking to have a good year and would love to sign a three- or four-year deal and stay in Boston, and be part of them turning around."
Humphries envisions a brighter future for himself in Boston, starting with the support of new coach Stevens, who called him regularly this summer to check on him and offer motivation. (Interestingly, Humphries' third cousin, Brian Ligon, played for Stevens at Butler.) In Brooklyn, Humphries went from starting to seeing inconsistent minutes to being brought up in trade talks. While he struggled a bit offensively with the Nets -- his rebounding was still strong at 11.0 per 36 minutes -- Ketroser said Humphries was disappointed about his role there.
Now, the potential starting power forward is ready "to compete for a big role" on the Celtics.
Even though they're not in the top-five team conversation in the Eastern Conference -- that would include the Heat, Bulls, Pacers, Nets and Knicks -- Humphries and management are prepared to make some noise.
"Last year was a tough situation, up and down. For whatever reason, sometimes things just don't work out," Humphries said. "No real fingers to point; I'm just in a different situation now. I'm motivated and I'm looking to make the most out of it. It's funny, of all the places I would end up, I never thought I would play in Boston, but just from being around those guys, it should be exciting. We're out to try to prove that we're a team that can compete every night, and whenever people sort of write you off, it's a lot of motivation.
"I'm not looking to be a part of a tanking situation. I know that [president of basketball operations] Danny Ainge has said that they're not looking to tank, and I'm sure Brad Stevens coming in is definitely not looking to do that. So it's just about competing and bringing it every night. We're going to have to figure out ways to win and continue to get better, and it starts with camp."