CLIPPERS’ SACKS REFLECTS ON SEASON

 Vice President of Basketball Operations Gary Sacks discusses the season

Prior to the Clippers’ regular season finale in Sacramento, Clippers.com’s Eric Patten sat down with Vice President of Basketball Operations Gary Sacks to discuss the season. Sacks talked about what made the Clippers successful, the development of some key players, why Jamal Crawford should win Sixth Man of the Year for the second time and why expectations are higher than ever for the entire organization heading into the playoffs.

Here is the complete transcript from the interview:

Eric Patten, Clippers.com: The first thing I wanted to talk about was just your overall impression of the season.

Vice President of Basketball Operations Gary Sacks: “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. In the end, I think the players, the coaches, the staff have done a great job of kind of managing everything and I think the expectations going into the season. You know we started off real strong, with injuries here and there.  But at the end of the day, I think we ended up finishing strong at the end here, winning some games heading into the playoffs. So, I’m pretty excited about it.

“I think everybody is really focused and ready to go and I think that’s a testament to the preparation that’s been put in; the coaches putting together game plans and the players working together to kind of build on the success that we’ve had last year. So many different things that we’ve achieved this year that the franchise has never seen, so that’s important.”

Patten: For some of the players who have only been here for a year or two, it doesn’t maybe hit home quite as much as for a longtime employee. But for someone like you who’s been here for 18 years, season-ticket holders, or even Vinny [Del Negro], who’s been here for three years kind of building this process, talk about how meaningful it is to see some of these franchise marks or milestones go by the wayside.

Sacks: “It’s great. I mean it’s something to be proud of obviously. It’s something that when you have time to look back on it, it’s probably going to be something to think about. But right now, we’re so focused on the playoffs. And the expectations were high going in, but that’s driven internally. That was the coaches, the players, the staff, the front office, the entire organization. We had expectations of being a good team, being a team that can compete at the highest level. So, we’re not satisfied by any stretch of the imagination. We feel like we’ve had some great moments, but we also feel like we’re capable of doing a lot more. So, I think they’ll be a time to you know celebrate you know these accomplishments, but right now’s not that time.”

Patten: When you think about the expectations that you may have had when you assembled this team in the off-season, moving from the success that occurred last season, do you feel like that the team has met the expectations, do you think they exceeded them, fell short? How do you perceive it?

Sacks: “When Vinny, myself and [Clippers President] Andy [Roeser] put the team together this summer, I think we knew that we had the cornerstones, we had the building blocks in guys like Chris [Paul], Blake [Griffin], DJ {DeAndre Jordan], Chauncey [Billups], [Caron Butler], [Eric Bledsoe], the guys that have been with us now for two years and longer and being part of our core. But, it was an unknown. We felt like last year there were some areas that we needed to address and we felt like we did a pretty good job of putting those pieces together. I think to say that we met our expectations, we won’t know that until after the playoffs, because that’s the most important thing. In the regular season, we’ve done some good things and we’ve had some rough stretches.

But, our guys hold themselves to a really high standard. So, I don’t know if anybody’s satisfied. I mean, we’ve had some really good individual situations come up: the winning streak, the first half of the season, we really came out strong, Chris winning the All-Star MVP, two All-Stars again, Blake and Chris. So, we know that all those things are nice, but nothing is going to mean anything for the season unless we do well in the playoffs. That’s our focus. When we look back at it later, we might be able to evaluate some things. But, that’s what we’re kind of locked into right now.”

Patten: And that was kind of the state of mind for the organization with the guys that were acquired in the offseason too: guys with championship experience, guys that were winners. Matt Barnes is one of those guys. He’s been on playoff teams, he’s got postseason experience. Did you ever imagine when he’s the last guy that signed in August, kind of an afterthought so to speak, did you ever imagine the contributions he’d have made?

Sacks: “It’s funny because I think sometimes when you acquire someone late in the process, everyone thinks that like you said, it’s an afterthought or that he’s the last piece. But, we didn’t see that. We were still evaluating at that point positions on our team that we felt like we needed or could possibly help us. So, just because he was the last guy signed, doesn’t necessarily mean we had him slotted into that kind of role as a 14th man or 15th man. That being said, yeah, it’s been a great season for Matt. I think he’s really contributed to this team in so many ways: shooting the ball, obviously his defense, but more so like you said, just the mindset.

“I think he along with a lot of the guys on our team that have actually won championships, Lamar [Odom], Chauncey, Caron, their mindset is a championship mindset and I would put Blake Griffin and Chris Paul right in that group, even though they haven’t gotten to that final chapter. They bring that mindset to every single practice, to every single game and I see no level of satisfaction with our guys right now for what we’ve done. I think you know they’re so focused on what’s ahead of us that that mindset will hopefully carry into the playoffs.”

Patten: Is that something unique for two relatively young players. Blake a young player, Chris in the prime of his career, that haven’t won titles, but have kind of that championship mindset. That’s got to be kind of unique right?

Sacks: “I think so. But you know I think that that’s a testament to the will that they have to win. Ultimately, being All-Stars and winning MVPs and All-Star MVPS, that’s great. Obviously, the more that happens, the better for our guys because they deserve that kind of success. But, I think if you had to ask them, and I think everybody in this organization would say the same thing right now. All our players, our coaches, our owner, everything, I think they would trade a lot of that for being able to compete for a championship. That’s really the ultimate goal, but it is nice to have players that believe so much in winning and don’t really worry so much about their individual accolades.”

Patten: One of the best examples I saw of that was out of 24 All-Stars this season, Blake and Chris are basically going to play the fewest minutes out of any of those guys on any other team. I think that kind of goes to what you’re saying as far as sacrifice goes. Or you could talk about Caron or Matt or any of these guys, Eric Bledsoe, just the sacrifice that they’re all making.

Sacks: “They’re all making a sacrifice. Grant Hill, you look and him coming in and basically helping us win games, New York and just recently in Memphis. Willie Green has been a true pro and made some big shots for us. And Eric [Bledsoe], I mean to me, you know he’s got the ability and talent to be a starting point guard in this league. It just happens that he plays on a team that has a player the caliber of Chris Paul and we know how great of a player he is.

“So the sacrifice that they’re making I think will go a long way towards helping us. Last year in the playoffs, I thought we were a little bit worn down because of the compressed season, the number of games that were played in such a short period of time. And then being in a very tough playoff series with Memphis, I think that that was a factor. The minutes that these guys have played hopefully will translate into it being a little bit fresher and a little bit more prepared to play this year.”

Patten: Any experience they got together last year, whether it’s Blake and DeAndre, Eric Bledsoe, or whomever; at the core of the team, must be a good thing kind of moving into the post season this year too.

Sacks: “I think continuity is a big part of this league and when you have guys that have been together for a while, for a couple of years, and hopefully longer, but when you have guys that have been together there’s definitely something to be said for that. I think the coaching staff had done a good job of managing the minutes and the playing time. It’s just not easy.

“We have a bench with guys that are sitting out who could really contribute and they’re prepared, but there’s just not enough minutes to go around. So, that’s a testament to the entire coaching staff and the players for being ready and being able to utilize them to help us win games.”

Patten: That stood out to me, too. A guy like Ryan Hollins, all 13 veterans on the roster, every single guy has found a way to contribute or help win a game or more than one game this year. Hollins in Orlando, and a few games recently, [Ronny] Turiaf earlier in the season. Even these guys who haven’t played in a while are all doing things to contribute and I think that goes to what you’re saying as far as just professionals, staying ready, right?

Sacks: “And we didn’t mention Jamal Crawford who’s been unbelievable this year. To me, he’s the clear Sixth Man of the Year and I know there are some other great players out there that come off the bench, but what he’s done for us in terms of in the fourth quarter when it’s winning time, I don’t know if there’s anybody on our team that’s more valuable than Jamal. I mean, it’s been a great season for him and I hope that he’s a guy that can win that award for the second time.”

Patten: When you brought him in during the off season, I think the idea was that he could help in the fourth quarter, right? Help take some pressure off of Chris because that was evident in the playoffs last year. Like you’ve said before, teams would double team him and take the ball out of his hands. Did you think that he would fit in this well? It’s got to make you feel good that what you envisioned worked out the way that it did?

Sacks: “Myself and Vinny, when we were interested in bringing Jamal in, I think it was that mindset. You know, we had talked to Chris a little bit about it, and Blake, and said, what would help us get a little bit better and we were on the same page. It was that kind of scoring ability in the fourth quarter to take the pressure off of both Chris and Blake to have to score. We all know how great of a facilitator Chris is, but so is Blake, being able to have them work with Jamal in the fourth quarter had been a huge bonus for us in terms of teams not being able to key in our two all-star players. So that’s made us such a better team. As I said, in the playoffs, that’s the time when we really want this to manifest itself.”

Patten: When you think about Blake and you and I have talked about this before, the three seasons he’s had, you’ve almost seen this steady progression, maybe not even in numbers, but you’ve seen this steady progression and skills improving and leadership improving and all those things. Do you think that there’s anything at this point that he can’t do?

Sacks: “No, no I don’t. I think the sky is the limit. He’s obviously an All-Star player. He’s obviously one of the top players at his position in the league. But, as good as he is, he’s still got so much potential to even get that must better. Which is kind of scary for the rest of the league, I think.

“But I think that’s because he’s never satisfied with where he is. You know, he’s a guy who will definitely put every ounce of effort into becoming as good of a player as he can possibly be. I don’t see any limit to what he can do on the floor. I think some of the things you’ve seen this year, the passing ability, the ability to facilitate for his teammates. That was there; I think we just have maybe a little bit better personnel out there finishing for him when he’s making those plays. And if teams are going to double, he’s going to make them pay. But, the other thing that I want to say is, it’s nice to have two guys that can kind of share the load a little bit too with Chris and with Blake. That’s a nice thing for our team to have.”

Patten: Their relationship, chemistry and things like that on the court, it seems like it’s just getting better as they get more familiar with each other. In your opinion, is there a better tandem of players from a big-small point of view, than those two?

Sacks: “Oh, I don’t know, that’s hard to say. There’s a lot of great players in the league and there’s a lot of good tandems out there in terms of that. But I would take my chances with those two guys any day. And the great thing is, is they’re not only figuring out how to play together, but how to effect winning, which is the most important thing. So, as you see from last year to this year, I think that they’re more comfortable on the floor and with each other in terms of where, how they can work together and then how they can integrate themselves into the entire team concept.

“They’re both such tremendous players, but they’re also great people. I think that gets lost sometimes in the shuffle here in terms of all the games, and winning, and all of the excitement that the team has. What they do for the organization off the floor is just as important as on the floor.”

Patten: How do you view [DeAndre Jordan], how has he developed this year?

Sacks: “One thing with DeAndre is he’s had, especially lately, so many great games in terms of playing, defensive rebounding, running the floor. On this team, we have so many weapons offensively that he’s probably not scoring as many points as he’s capable of. But I think that the other areas that he’s been contributing in have been huge for us lately. I think that that’s a testament to being himself, being mentally prepared and understanding what his role is on this team. He’s he’s a very good low post player and I think that sometimes gets lost in his role. But I have to say with some of the tams that we’re playing and some of the match ups he’s a vital and integral part of what we’re doing.”

Patten: Just a couple more things… As the team moves forward, obviously the focus right now is on the playoffs, but you’re still planning for post-playoffs. What is the next thing that you and your staff are working on at the moment?

Sacks: “I think just identifying areas in which we can improve. I know it’s a general statement, but we’re always looking, working with the coaches, working through our data, our information and our evaluation of the team to try and find areas that we can improve ourselves and give us a better chance to win for the future. So, a lot of that is with the draft, with free agency. And of course we’re locked into the playoffs, but we also have any eye towards that and looking into ways in which we can really bolster our team to continue the success that we’ve had.”

Patten: I know you don’t want to reflect too much on the season, but what was the one thing that would be the most memorable thing from the regular season for you?

Sacks: “Like I said before, we had high expectations but to have the best record in the NBA going into the second half of the schedule, I think it was a major accomplishment for the organization, the coaches, the players. We ran into a little bit of some injuries and some things, but we overcame that. I think we ended up putting ourselves in a good position but it’s such a tough conference that we play in. There’s so much competition and even with a good record you still have to go out and play some incredibly difficult teams. So, I think that all of those areas, all those experiences that we went through are going to make us stronger. But if I had to say one thing that I think we would be most proud of would be having that good of a start to the season.”