Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers finally can take a deep breath, as the issues that arose during last season’s playoffs now are in the rearview. Donald Sterling is out; Steve Ballmer is in.
The Clippers introduced their new owner during Monday’s Fan Festival. Ballmer high-fived and chest-bumped fans as he energetically took the stage. It truly was a "new day" in Clipperland.
How things ended last season had to have left a bad taste in the mouths of Doc and his players. Who knows how far the Clippers could have gone in the postseason had they not had the weight of the world thrust upon them at possibly the absolute worst time.
"It’s never any fun when, in our case, as I always say, real life comes into our make-believe jobs," Rivers said Wednesday on the Dan Patrick Show. "In this case, there was a lot of stuff that we all had to deal with, very complicated stuff, as individuals, too, because everybody has different feelings on how they’re feeling about all this stuff. When you’re trying to coach a team, and you have a collection of individuals with individual thoughts, I thought this was very difficult."
With a new owner in place, one who appears to be the complete opposite of his predecessor, Rivers and his team are free to move forward in their quest for what Ballmer refers to as "Larry," as in the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Winning "Larry" would be the next step in the process, too.
"Our expectations are as high as anybody else’s. We want to win it all. We have those dreams. We haven’t earned the right yet to do it, we haven’t done it. We got to the second round last year. In a lot of ways, that was a success. But it wasn’t successful for us, as far as I am concerned."
Ballmer’s self-awareness has Clippers headed in right direction
Based on Rivers’ perception of last season’s playoff exit, it sounds like there is an all-or-nothing mentality circulating through the organization. The team is returning its core group of players – Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford. But it’s not going to get any easier this season. The road blocks still are there. The main difference, though, between now and then, aside from Ballmer’s presence, is the bond that was developed by these players while going through the sad circumstances that arose.
The Clippers have an opportunity to purge some of that bad taste when the season kicks off against the team that ended it all for them in 2013 – the Oklahoma City Thunder. Taking the Staples Center floor on opening night likely will be emotional for these Clippers, but if there’s any team and coach who can handle it and adjust in the process, it’s Rivers and this veteran group.