LOS ANGELES (AP) The Los Angeles Clippers once again will begin training camp with championship aspirations. Perhaps if they set their sights lower this time, they might be able to get past the second round of the playoffs – something the franchise has never done.
”We didn’t finish the season well last year, but neither did anyone else that was in the playoffs except for Golden State. So it’s not how you lost, but that you lost,” coach Doc Rivers said Friday at the team’s media day. ”There was one winner last year, and that was Golden State. They’re the only team that can say they got it right.”
Rivers, beginning his third season with the team, believes he has enough depth to get through all the pitfalls and obstacles that an 82-game NBA season can present – injuries, fatigue, even center DeAndre Jordan’s abysmal free-throw shooting.
”I like the feel and the vibe around our organization and our team right now,” Rivers said. ”This is clearly the most talent that we’ve had since I’ve been here. I don’t even think it’s close. We’re deep and we’re multipositional, and that was the goal going into the summer. It gives us more options when you have injuries, which you’re going to have during the season.
”With our versatility, we should be able to match up with about anyone. It’s a good collection of guys, and now we just have to figure out how we’re going to use it all. We have a lot of ball-handlers, and I think that will make us better than worse, honestly. But we have to be a better defensive team.”
These Clippers will bring a new identity – if for no other reason than their new uniform design. Their bench is new and improved, with the additions of Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson, Pablo Prigioni, Wesley Johnson and Paul Pierce, a 17-year veteran and 10-time All-Star who helped Rivers win a championship in Boston and is the only player on the roster with a ring.
”I can bring attitude. I’m a very competitive person,” said Pierce, the MVP of the 2008 finals. ”A lot of the teams I’ve played on have been able to feed off that.”
Point guard Chris Paul is looking forward to playing with Pierce, who turns 38 next month and said Friday that he will retire if the Clippers win it all.
”Just from knowing Paul and playing against him and watching him, I know that Paul’s a great teammate and a veteran in this league who has done something that none of us have done,” Paul said. ”So we’re excited about that – not only his voice, but Paul can hoop. And we need that.”
The Clippers have won at least 56 games in each of the previous three seasons. Last season, they were eliminated in the Western Conference semifinals for the third time in four years, blowing a 3-1 series lead against Houston.
”I think we were all tired at the end of the playoffs, but that’s not really an excuse,” forward Blake Griffin said. ”I can bet that every player that plays in the playoffs is tired. So depth is a huge help, and I think that bench depth is going to be huge for us. But we have to put it all together, and it’s on all of us to make sure that happens.”
Griffin, who averaged 39.8 minutes in the postseason, is looking forward to not shouldering as much of the load – now that Jamal Crawford, the two-time Sixth Man of the Year, will have some formidable help in the second unit.
”It goes to our depth. We have so many guys that can make plays,” Griffin said. ”We have guys who can shoot the basketball, guys that have experience and guys who can finish. So that will all come together over the course of training camp and throughout the season as well.
”But right now, our main goal is getting everyone on the same page because we have so many new guys, and we want to make everybody feel comfortable with the system.”
Jordan was perilously close to leaving the Clippers for the Dallas Mavericks before doing an about-face and staying in L.A. – after telling Mavs owner Mark Cuban he was on board. It should be interesting when the Clippers face Dallas in their home opener Oct. 30, a night after they begin the season at Sacramento.
”I’m not in Dallas. I’m in Los Angeles with the Clippers and these guys, I’m going to be here for a very long time and we’re going to be here a very long time,” Jordan said. ”All I’m concerned about is us getting better as a unit.”