TALKING CLIPS WITH SAM AMICK, USA TODAY
National NBA writer Sam Amick of USA Today spoke to Clippers.com’s Eric Patten about the Clippers at Summer League in Las Vegas. The pair talked about the offseason, Matt Barnes, where the change in perception about the Clippers may have begun and more.
Here is the transcript of Amick’s interview:
Eric Patten, Clippers.com: When did the change in culture start for the Clippers? Is it Chris [Paul] arriving? Is it Blake [Griffin] being drafted? Is it Blake’s rookie year? Where do you think the change started?
Sam Amick, USA Today: I think it starts with Blake and kind of has a slow burn, but that’s a huge part of the story. And then I always feel like this gets forgotten, getting invited to the LeBron James table in free agency in 2010. I look back on that and think that was big. It reminded me this summer of the Golden State Warriors when they got in on the Dwight Howard situation. For the most part, nobody believes that big-name guy is going to go there but you can’t ignore the fact that they got invited to that party. Say what you will about the NBA, but status matters, perception among the player community matters. So, it’s something that I always kind of remember. Obviously, getting Chris, having a stroke of good luck with him not going to the Lakers, that’s the biggest part of it all, that’s the one that takes it to a new level. You have a productive couple of years without a ton of uncertainty about whether he’s going to come back, but you just never know.
This has just skyrocketed. It’s something different. It’s a whole different beast. Doc Rivers is one of the best guys in the game. Alvin Gentry is one of the best guys in the game.
EP: Gentry is kind of a lost part of it, right?
SA: Yeah. I’m a big proponent of Alvin and how good of a coach he is and how good of a guy he is personality-wise with players. You’re talking about that being the guy who is the backstop on your coaching staff. And communication is not going to be a problem because Doc is a great communicator. Those guys should have a phenomenal locker room. Some of the issues that people wondered about last year, for the most part, were part of a young growing team. For those wrinkles to get ironed out and for the chemistry to take a step forward, they’re going to be really good.
We always over-hype teams before taking chemistry into account, so I’ve become real gun shy in saying, ‘Ah, the Lakers last year are going to win the West’ or ‘Miami’s going to win seven-straight titles.’ We’ll have to wait and see. How does Darren Collison fit in? How does Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick fit in, all those guys? But they’re going to be really good.
EP: Granted it is still two months before they open camp, but what is the first thing we are going to notice with Doc Rivers in place when this team takes the floor opening night?
SA: I think the relationship with guys is a whole different level. I talked to J.J. Redick about Doc last week and to hear him describe, from a player’s perspective, why he commands so much respect, is just black-and-white. He’s a guy who’s not going to get questioned nearly as much, if at all, as most of the coaches in the league. He’s been there. He’s done it. He has credibility and the resume with a ring on it and having a title contender for a number of years and having Hall of Famers like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, to a lesser degree, swear by you. For the most part, those guys completely swore by Doc Rivers, so that goes a long way.
EP: You have followed Matt Barnes’ career for a long time, going back to your days with the Sacramento Bee. What kind of things did he bring to the team last year and why was it so important for the Clippers to bring him back?
SA: The edge he brings is big. He plays that enforcer role. That’s kind of simplistic way of talking about it, but I do think that matters. I know it’s not hockey but it’s a rough game. [The Clippers] also happen to have a player in Blake Griffin who is on the top three list, if not the top, of players who get targeted by the opponent.
They try to get under Blake’s skin, try to get him frustrated. I think players still go at Blake because there is jealousy, because he can do things physically that they can’t do, because he steals half of the time on SportsCenter, all that stuff. If you’re going to have that kind of a vibe around a guy, you need the Matt Barnes’ of the world to kind of balance that out.
That’s just a small part of it. With Matt, his defense is huge. When they were at their best last season, and you know better than anybody, Eric, guys like Matt were batting those balls in the lane, playing feisty defense. I remember watching them early, thinking, ‘Man, anyone who drives the lane is going to come out with blood on their forearms.’ You couldn’t get through the lane without hands scratching and clawing. That’s how they defended and that started the offense. And the next thing you know, they’re on that huge winning streak. Barnes is a good fit. Chris Paul is one of those guys that’s a gritty, don’t give a ‘you know what’ kind of competitor and so in that regard he fits with a guy like Matt Barnes.
EP: What is one thing that in your mind the team might have to worry about?
SA: I think the development of Blake and DeAndre [Jordan] in the front court. I mean, Blake has gotten better. He’s one of those guys where the talent is a blessing and a curse because everybody still feels like the ceiling is so that he’s got to keep getting closer to it. When I’ve talked to other teams about the Clippers, Blake taking that next step to superstar status that people think could be there is factor number one. We saw against Memphis what a front court looks like when it’s more experienced, more consistent, more deliberate. The Grizzlies with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are probably the best in the league and I think the Clippers probably aspire to have more of that with their two guys. But their guys are younger and they’ve got a ways to go, but that’s probably the biggest thing to me is that they need those guys to take another step.
EP: Last season, one of the elements that never really came to fruition was a backcourt of Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Jamal Crawford late in games. Now we might see a backcourt of Chris, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford. What will that do for the Clippers at the end of games and, more so, what trouble will that cause for opponents?
SA: That’s tough. You’ve got the best of both worlds. Jamal can break you down, so you’ve got to start protecting that rim and get ready for the penetration game. Obviously, he can step back and hurt you if you play too far off. J.J. can go get his tent and his campfire in the corner and wait for that kick-out pass or run off those Ray Allen screens that he’s excited to be getting from some of the stuff is going to draw up. And if a play’s breaking down, then Chris is probably the best in the league at making something happen in the last six seconds of the clock. It’s options galore.