When it comes to starters and bench players, Clippers coach Doc Rivers doesn’t have to worry about bruising any egos.
It’s a unique situation for a professional sports team.
Jamal Crawford, who was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year last season, thrives when coming in off the bench. Matt Barnes has said he prefers to come in off the bench rather than start, but that he’ll do either to help the Clippers.
That’s a good thing for coach Doc Rivers.
"There are two groups. One is the old, veterans like Matt. They want to come off the bench," Rivers said. "That’s when they’ve figured it out. It saves them. It makes them fresher. They’re smarter. They can watch the game and evaluate the game."
"Then there’s that extraordinary group of guys who clearly could be starters but actually still prefer coming off the bench. There’s a group of guys, like Kevin McHale. People forget for a long time he came off the bench. John Havlicek, I’m using Celtics, sorry guys. … Jamal can start anywhere. He could start here. But he prefers coming off the bench."
The Clippers have designs on winning the organization’s first NBA championship, and having players who don’t fret over starting or reserve roles is a beneficial thing. If there’s frustration, it doesn’t appear that it will be over who wins the starter’s spot at small forward and who doesn’t.
"It doesn’t matter," Rivers said of who’s starting at the three. "(Well) I guess it does. You get to run out when they have the lights on. I’m more focused on the 3-spot as a whole."
Rivers is toying with different lineups. Already in the preseason, he’s used Barnes, Reggie Bullock and Chris Douglas-Roberts.
"I don’t know if I’m starting or coming off the bench, but I trust Doc," Barnes said. "What I do know is that I’m going to be playing, and that’s all that matters. Douglas-Roberts will be sporting those old-school shorts on the court at some point, too. The point is, whether it’s him or Barnes, who has dropped 20 pounds and should be fresher in a starting role or off the bench, they’ll all get their minutes.
"For me, it’s more about the finish," Rivers said. "I think that’s when they should stop the game and call the lineup, the last four minutes of the game. OK, finishing the game. I really do. I think that’s what they should do. That’s the most important minutes. I just care about 48 minutes at the 3-spot."
Having players who enjoy and prefer to come off the bench is uncommon for most, including Rivers, who never quite got the hang of it when he was a reserve at the end of his career.
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"I don’t know how they do that. I came off the bench my last year and a half, and I thought it was hard," Rivers said. "I have an appreciation for it. Maybe because I was so old it took me 10 minutes to warm up. By the time I warmed up I was back on the bench. I think that’s a hard job."