PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Clippers have made some high-profile additions this offseason, but most of the players and coaches on the team believe that the biggest reason they will be a championship team rather than a one-and-done team in the postseason is the two longest-tenured players on the roster.
As Doc Rivers sat before the media and talked about championship expectations on Monday, he singled out Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the only two players on the team who remember when the Clippers were the doormats, instead of the darlings, of the league.
“One guy that has stood out to me is Blake,” Rivers said. “Just sitting in my office up there and looking down on him and watching him work. I knew he was a worker. I didn’t know he was the worker to the extent that he’s worked this summer. He’s put in a lot of time. I’ve been impressed with his scheduling. He does a lot of stuff, and nothing gets in the way of his basketball, and that shows me a great sign of maturity.”
Griffin is just 24 years old and has been named an All-Star in each of his first three seasons in the league, but there’s a feeling that his growth must take another step for the Clippers to get past the second round of the playoffs and advance to their first-ever Western Conference finals -- and beyond.
Chris Paul mentioned that earlier this year in an interview with ESPNLosAngeles.com.
“Blake is one of those guys where his age has nothing to do with anything,” Paul said. “People may say he's a young guy, but he's been special in this league. He's been an All-Star. His voice carries a lot of weight, and I think our team will definitely go as Blake goes. He's our guy, and he's good enough to do so.”
Griffin agreed with those comments when he spoke at the Clippers’ media day on Monday.
“I think this is a big year, and I really need to need to step up and be one of those guys we can count on at the end of games," Griffin said. "I think we put a lot on C.P. [Paul] at the end of games to go make plays for us, and this is a year that -- I feel for us to take that next step and get to where we want to get to -- I need to take a step with us and make sure I’m a guy that we can always count on. Not just scoring-wise but defensively. Just making plays and making things happen.”
Another player that must take his game to the next level for the Clippers to have success in the postseason is Jordan, who shot just 38.6 percent from the free-throw line during the season and 22.2 percent from the line in the playoffs. Rivers believes Jordan will not only improve at the free-throw line but become an elite defender this season.
“I think he’s huge for us. I think he will be consistent,” Rivers said. “I’m looking at DeAndre Jordan as an all-defensive player. I think he should be on the all-defensive team. I think he should be a candidate to win the defensive player of the year award. It’s going to require consistency for him to do that. We need him to be the captain of our defense. I’m putting a lot on his plate. All the other stuff will take care of itself.”
Jordan embraced the challenge from Rivers and said he expects to have a career year this season on the defensive end.
“I know defensively it starts with me down there,” Jordan said. “I have to communicate with my teammates, and I have to set an example. Defense is my main priority, and offense is going to come second. I’m confident. [Rivers] makes me even more confident, and so do my teammates.”
Rivers understands the newfound championship expectations for the Clippers and believes his team is more than up to the challenge but said the journey toward the franchise’s first title begins on the practice court and their approach to the regular season.
“[Expectations are] going to be on us anyway, so you might as well embrace it,” Rivers said. “You play the regular season getting ready for the postseason. You want to win, obviously, but I look at the regular season as preparation for the playoffs, so every practice we have during the regular season is a playoff practice and we talk about that. We have to execute better defensively and offensively, and the only way you do that is having playoff focus in your practices in October, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Paul embraces the expectations the team has coming into this season but also knows it will take time for the Clippers to become a championship team, and it begins with the start of training camp on Tuesday.
"For us, it's going to be all about the process," Paul said. "We can't control what people say or the hype, or the expectations, or the good things people say or the bad things that people say. I think, for us, and it sounds pretty cliché, but it's about the guys in our locker room.”