Do the Clippers have a big three?
Media days, by their very nature, force us to read into sights and sound bites, and the message sent by the Clippers is that they want to follow the proven path, not an innovative trail. They aren't taking a chance on a hot-name, first-time NBA coach. They're not on the analytical vanguard. There won't be a "positionless" revolution.
Those small lineups you saw the Celtics play under Doc Rivers last season?
"That was necessity," Rivers explained. "I like size. I know size wins, at the end of the day."
What won for Rivers in Boston back in the day (June 17, 2008, if you need the exact date for your flux capacitor), was the Big Three combo of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Since then we've seen the triumph of Miami's LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh experiment, and we nearly saw a restoration of San Antonio's time-tested triumvirate of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
So it was interesting to see the Clippers seat the trio of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to field questions together. It was the Clippers' attempt at a big three of their own, and it provided a visual follow-up to the lofty goals Rivers set for Jordan.
"I'm looking at DeAndre Jordan as an all-defensive player," Rivers said. "I think he should be on the [all] defensive team, I think he should be a candidate for the defensive player of the year award. I'm putting a lot on his plate."
He's essentially asking Jordan to be like Paul and Griffin, who are considered among the best at their positions. He wants there to be three main players in the discussion when the talk turns to the Clippers.
Until now, the only way Jordan could be grouped with Griffin and Paul was on the payroll; they're the only players on the Clippers with eight figures in their annual salaries. But Jordan didn't average double digits in points (8.8 per game) or rebounds (7.2) last season. He started all 82 games but finished few of them, spending most of the fourth quarters on the bench.
But there was Jordan on Monday, sharing the stage with Griffin and Paul, accepting responsibility with talk such as, "Defensively, it starts with me down there."
Perhaps Jordan can be like Indiana's Roy Hibbert, who was talked about a lot more in the late stages of the playoffs than he was at the start of the regular season. But that's only part of the Clippers' path to progress and the trip to the conference finals that has eluded the franchise throughout its history.
Before there can be a big three there has to be a dynamic duo. Griffin has to be on the same plane as Paul, be That Guy, capable of winning a playoff game on his own if need be.
Paul put it out there this summer, and Griffin is trying to grab on to the higher expectations like a lob pass.
"I need to step up and really be a guy that we can count on at the end of close games," Griffin said. "We put a lot on CP at the end of games to go make plays for us. This is a year where I feel like for us to take that next step and get to where we want to, I need to take a step with us and make sure that I'm a guy that we can always count on. And not just scoringwise, but defensively, whatever it is, just making plays and making things happen."
It's clear that while Rivers wants to utilize a proven formula, the challenge is different. When the Big Three assembled in Boston he had three accomplished players who had all been to the conference finals on their own, but needed to find a way to mesh their games in order to take the next step. With the Clippers, a group that largely has never been beyond the second round of the playoffs, he must elicit the full potential from talented players. He must instruct a new generation on the old-school approach.