Ladies and gentlemen: Doc Rivers, Clippers president.
Q: What is the key change needed for the Clippers to be a championship team?
Rivers: “We’re right there. It’s funny. People think it’s easy to go win a title. Winning is hard. Winning a game is hard. I love the fact that we are on the door. We’ve knocked on the door twice as far as getting to the Western Conference Finals. We haven’t made it, so you just keep doing it. I don’t feel the push or the pressure of, ‘Man, if they don’t do it …’ Why not? We keep doing it.
“We clearly have proven that we can get to a Game 7 and a Game 6 back-to-back years. Last year we were up 3-1 [in the second round to Houston and lost]. Then [in 2014], we had the meltdown in the Oklahoma City game [in the conference semifinals] that kind of changed the series. What it tells me is we’re closer than people think. We just got to keep going.
“Obviously, if we are not there in two years from now you re-think things. But you don’t blow your team up every year. I keep laughing at everyone who says [to do] that. That’s the guys who have never really been in it. You keep just going forward. Keep your core and see if you can get it right. That’s it. We have to rebound better. Our defense is light years better this year to me. We have to make the right shots. Make the right plays. Our whole thing is to keep playing.”
Before the season, Rivers said he might blow up his roster if the team fell short in the playoffs. Apparently, the idea is now laughable.
At least Rivers is right now. It’s hard to assemble a core as good as Paul, Griffin and Jordan. Don’t throw that away for the sake of change. If the Warriors and Spurs weren’t historically good, the Clippers would factor more prominently into the discussion of title contenders. Like all potential championship teams, the Clippers would need luck to win, and that will probably remain true the next couple seasons. But changing the roster won’t change the odds of good fortune. It’ll just make it more likely the team’s talent falls out of title-contention level.
Of course, Rivers doesn’t have complete control here. Paul and Griffin can become free agents next year and Jordan the year after that. If Rivers wants to keep this group together, he must convince everyone to stay.
Rivers also might be saying this as a negotiating ploy. I don’t want to trade any of my top players, but if you make an over-the-top offer, I’d have to consider it… Remember, there have been reports the Clippers would shop Griffin first if they change directions. Teams totally content with their core don’t make that determination.
The Clippers’ performance in the playoffs will certainly affect Rivers’ plan, so it’s difficult to project what that will be before the postseason.
It’s also difficult to discern Rivers’ plan by listening to his contradictory statements.