Boston Celtics head coach Glenn "Doc" Rivers gestures to his team during their NBA Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series against the New York Knicks in Boston

Doc Rivers said he didn’t plan to leave Boston; doesn’t shy away from Clipper title talk


Doc Rivers said he wanted to stay focused on the Clippers in his introductory press conference (which was shown live on NBA TV), but you knew there were going to be a lot of Boston questions.

Rivers admitted he didn’t plan to leave Boston — he said he went so far to say he wanted out of the negotiations and he told Celtics GM Danny Ainge he was coming back.

“I kind of pulled out myself, not from being mad or anything, I just had enough of it…” Rivers said of the drawn-out negotiations. “I called Danny and said, ‘I’m staying, I’m coaching that’s what I am, let’s move forward.’ Then two hours later he told me ‘no, you’re not staying, you’re going.’”

Through it all Rivers said what drew him to the Clippers job was the challenge — he didn’t back away from title talk and aspirations. Which is a new attitude around the Clippers.

“Quite honestly, at this point in my life it’s the only reason I’m coaching, is to try to win titles,” Rivers said. “For us, we have to prove we can win a series first and then build from there.”

Is this Clippers roster really ready to win a title?

“We didn’t win it last year, so there is clearly work to do…” Rivers said. “The reason I wanted this when it came available is because of what they have, not what they don’t have.

“I clearly think this is an extremely talented basketball team, there were times in last year when they were the best team. What we have to figure out is, with the group we have can we do that in the postseason as opposed to just the regular season?”

If the Clippers are going to contend it is going to have to start with more consistent defense and protection of the paint. The Clippers were a top 10 defensive team overall but allowed the second highest shooting percentage in the restricted area in the league and the fourth highest in the paint outside the restricted area.

Rivers had great defenses in Boston, but Tom Thibodeau was his assistant coach who set that up and Kevin Garnett was the guy anchoring everything and quarterbacking the defense in the paint. Can he run that same strong-side overload defense with the Clippers?

“With the personnel here for sure,” Rivers said. “I think offenses have improved, you can’t do it exactly the same anymore, I just don’t think you can, guys have wised up to what we were doing, but with DeAndre (Jordan) and Blake (Griffin) I think you can absolutely form an unbelievable defense. They are long, they are athletic, that always starts a good defense, and we have that in house right now.”

That Clippers roster is going to need tweaks, and Rivers will have input on that (more than he did in Boston). He will not get Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce — Boston plans to trade both of them and the stipulations in the compensation package for Rivers said the Clippers and Celtics cannot trade players until next summer.

Even with roster tweaks, in the end one of the most respected coaches in the league is going to have to get more out of the guys already on the roster — particularly Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — if they are going to take the step up to serious contenders.

Doc Rivers isn’t backing away from that challenge. Instead, he is putting it right out there from Day 1.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.