51Q: Will Doc Rivers keep the talented/proud/difficult Clippers focused?
- Chris Paul is an extraordinary competitor who is very demanding of his teammates.
- DeAndre Jordan had a falling out with Paul. Now, Jordan wants a larger offensive role – something Paul, as point guard, will largely dictate.
- Likewise, Paul and Blake Griffin haven’t always meshed, though they seem to understand each other better now. Griffin’s posturing has aggravated many opponents, but also at least one teammate.
- Lance Stephenson reportedly alienated Hornets teammates and had former Pacers teammates not wanting him back. No wonder. In Indiana, he developed a reputation for being selfish, fought Evan Turner before the 2014 playoffs, blew in LeBron James ear and repeatedly challenged (and motivated) the Heat. When traded to the Clippers, he said his new team lacked toughness.
- Josh Smith was suspended by the Hawks for “conduct detrimental to the team” after a practice incident and then benched by the Pistons for missing practice. That might have been more Maurice Cheeks’ fault, but Smith’s inefficient ball-dominance and mercurial attitude caused Cheeks’ successor, Stan Van Gundy, to pay Smith more than $30 million to go away.
- Paul Pierce has reached the age where he’s unafraid to speak his mind, whether its attacking former teammates or playoff foes. He’ll even use his hands, if he deems necessary.
- J.J. Redick, while not the same showboat he was at Duke, is still prone to a little a trash talking and brashness. Not long ago, he and Paul loathed each other.
- After years of trade rumors, Jamal Crawford hasn’t hidden that he wouldn’t exactly mind leaving the Clippers.
- Austin Rivers has no concept of his own ability, and that too often leads to hog the ball (which his teammates recognize). He’s also the coach’s son.
The Clippers have a lot of, um, personality.
It falls on Doc Rivers to harness it, to guide it toward a common goal.
The Clippers are loaded with talent – enough to win a championship. But it’s also a combustible group.
Paul, Griffin and Jordan are stars right now. Pierce has been a star, and Smith and Stephenson were on the periphery of that label. That standing naturally inflates someone’s ego, and it’s not an easy thing to reverse. And it’s not as if players like Crawford and Austin Rivers will graciously slide into the background. How much room for ego is there on one team?
If anyone can keep this team on track, its Doc Rivers. Player relations is his strong suit. His championship Celtics – with Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins – had more than their fair share of strong personalities. He has done this before, and though this challenge might be larger, he can do it again.
Keeping everyone focused begins with Rivers himself. His teams consistently rank among the NBA’s leaders in technical fouls, and he contributes plenty. Despite wishing his players wouldn’t complain to referees, the Clippers feed off Rivers emotion. It’s a fine line, and Rivers must expertly walk it.
The refrain last season was that Rivers the president made the job more difficult for Rivers the coach. This year, it’s the opposite. This is a roster that should strike fear into any coach, even if its ceiling is sky high.
Of course, Rivers knows what he’s getting into. He got himself into it.
The result could be a championship – or a lot of headaches.