IDENTITY FOR CLIPPERS MORE ABOUT WHO THAN WHAT
A team’s identity is something that can be discovered at any time.
It may be the equivalent of a basketball epiphany, arriving with the confluence of a coaching staff and their players. When Doc Rivers, who will coach his ninth regular season game with the Clippers on Wednesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, talks about the melding process taking time, it is gaining an understanding of exactly who they are as a team that will likely tick off the most calendar days and in-season games.
“I can’t forge an identity on anybody,” Rivers said. “I think that always plays out. You figure out what they are and you try to use the best of that.”
Through eight games, it’s hard to know exactly who the Clippers are. They have struggled at times defensively, but made up for it by scoring a league-best 109.9 points per game. When things are humming, they have produced a veritably unstoppable offense.
“I think offensively we’ve done well,” said Blake Griffin, who is averaging a team-high 22.1 points on 57.1 percent shooting. “We’ve scored when we’ve needed to. It’s still the defensive thing, getting stops when we need to get stops. I don’t think we really have [an identity] yet.”
And that’s understandable. While the team brought back five key pieces from a year ago, they replaced 40 percent of the starting lineup and are still patching together a reserve unit that’s been at less than full strength for most of the early stages of the season. Of course, they are also undergoing a shift in coaching philosophy with the addition of Rivers and his staff.
An identity is never finite. It can be fluid as the year progresses. For Rivers, finding an identity is not a priority at the moment. When asked, he went as far as to say he’s not sure how important it is at all.
“I don’t know if it matters if we have an identity,” Rivers said. “But it’s really important to understand who you are. I think that’s a big difference and that takes a while, too. When you look at it that way, I don’t really know what our identity was anywhere I’ve coached. You are whatever everyone says it is.”
Rivers spent nine years in Boston, including six with Kevin Garnett in the fold, and each of those teams found its own way. His 2007-08 championship season, despite a remade veteran roster, did so quicker than others. They were fortunate, according to Rivers.
“I don’t even know what our identity was that year,” Rivers said. “At the end of the year people said we played really hard and that I guess we were physical. We were a defensive team even though we scored a lot points.
“The one thing with that team was that they got who they were pretty earlier. More so than other teams that have been made up. I think we had eight or nine roster changes. That’s a lot, but we got it together pretty quickly.”
Teams that undergo significant roster overhauls or coaching changes usually take longer, and no one situation is the same. Griffin, Rivers and others have said they feel they are behind teams like the Heat, Thunder, Spurs and Warriors because their core units and coaching staffs have been together. But the Clippers can catch up.
“I don’t think anyone has an identity except for teams that have been together,” Rivers said. “We pretty much know who Indiana is. They’re a big physical team. Miami, you know who they are, and probably Oklahoma and San Antonio. Other than that, I don’t know of anyone else.
“That’s what we are building towards.”
Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman said a new team cannot be judged, for better or worse, in its early stages of development.
“It takes a while to get teams to find a rhythm,” Adelman said Monday before playing the Clippers in L.A. “You’ve got to let it settle for three weeks to a month and then you start to get a real good idea of who you have.”
Who you have is really what it boils down to when you shake away the excess of expectation and projection. It’s why the Clippers filled their roster with players, who, as Rivers has said, “know what lane they’re in.”
“I wouldn’t say you have to have one thing where you say, ‘We’re about this or we’re about that,’” Griffin said. “But I think you have to know who you are as a team, especially the players. You have to know what your job is and what you bring to the table.”
Rivers echoed Griffin’s sentiment.
“As long as every player knows what they are and what they’re supposed to do,” Rivers said. “That’s the identity I want.”