MEDIA DAY SETS SEASON OF EXPECTATIONS IN MOTION
Doc Rivers emerged from a side door near the weight room at the Clippers’ Training Center Monday a few minutes before Media Day officially began.
It seemed fitting the Clippers’ new head coach led the team on its two-hour annual event that symbolizes both the start of training camp and the onset of newfound optimism.
“I’m excited about just getting this year on,” Rivers told a throng of more than 100 reporters. “It’s a new place for me, obviously, and a lot of our players as well. I look at our group and I think we have a chance to do something, so that excites you. When you look at the players that are on paper, if we can get them on the floor and performing together, then I think we can be a special team.”
Minutes after Rivers started his Media Day circuit, which included a brief interview with Rick Fox on NBA TV, three NBA Photo stations and more, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Company stepped onto the floor. Through much of their past two seasons together, there has been an abundance of positive feelings around the Clippers, as well as the seemingly yearly uptick in expectations that go along with them.
“For us, it’s going to be all about the process,” said Paul, who agreed to a long-term contract to stay in Los Angeles in July. “We can’t control what people say or the hype or the expectations or the good things people say or the bad things people say. For us, and it sounds pretty cliché, but it’s about the guys in our locker room. It’s coming into practice every day and preparing and giving ourselves an opportunity to win. That’s what you want at the end of the day.”
The chance to win is what attracted veterans like Antawn Jamison to the Clippers.
“Right now, just getting this out of the way and knowing that tomorrow we get started, this is the most excited I’ve ever been and this is not coming from a guy who’s been in the league for two or three years,” Jamison, entering his 16th NBA season and first with the Clippers, said. “I think this is pretty much the most talented team I’ve been a part of. This team has the most chemistry that I’ve been a part of. The thing I like about it is nobody’s worrying about contracts, nobody’s thinking about All-Star appearances. I like that this team has come into the season with a certain chip on their shoulder, a frustration after the way the season ended last year. And the most important thing is that we know we have to take it to the next level, not only take it to the next level, but actually believe that.”
The belief was present throughout Tuesday’s event. Newcomers J.J. Redick, Byron Mullens and Jared Dudley reiterated comments they made independently over the summer about the Clippers being an ideal fit for each of them. Jamal Crawford, the team’s third-leading scorer 2012-13, talked about the potential for this year’s bench to be even better. And new reserve point guard Darren Collison said joining the Clippers was all about trying to win now.
Or course, there were the almost prerequisite questions about bouncing back from a surprising, swift exit from the Playoffs after a 56-win regular season, and about how quickly a team loaded with talent on paper can put it together on the floor. But it was more subdued. Gone were any doubts that the Clippers might be among the best teams in a loaded Western Conference.
“This is the same situation as last year with half of the team being new,” forward Matt Barnes said. “This is really a brotherhood. A majority of these guys have been here all summer playing with us, so we got a chance to know each other.”
Barnes was one of the “new guys” a year ago. When the Clippers open training camp in San Diego Tuesday, he will be one of eight players returning from last season’s roster. Including three camp invites, there are 10 first-time Clippers as well as a new coaching staff.
“We’re going away for camp, which I think is good for this group,” Rivers said. “We have a lot of new parts to our team and I look at camp and going as kind of a bonding trip.”
Crawford thinks last season’s series loss to the Memphis Grizzlies could be a rallying point for everyone, regardless of whether or not they were in L.A. last year.
“I think we’re different because the way the season ended affected everybody,” Crawford said. “It even affected some people who aren’t here anymore. So, it affected everybody. I think it was on everybody’s mind all summer. Even for me, the last game I had to sit and watch the last half and that stuck with me this summer. I think nobody wants to have that feeling again, doing so many wonderful things during the season and having the season end so abruptly like that.”
And of all the things that came out of Media day, it was likely that. The Clippers are not merely aiming to capitalize on last season’s successes. Moreover, they are looking to outrun them.
“This summer has been extremely productive from our standpoint,” Griffin said, sitting next to Paul and Jordan at the dais. “Honestly, through my four years now this is the most excited I’ve ever been.”