HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Point fingers all you want at Chris Paul, coach Doc Rivers, owner Donald Sterling or anyone in Los Angeles this season. It doesn’t matter. Because it’s not on them … not If the Clippers are serious about making that move from pretender to contender.
It’s on two guys and two big guys in particular.
Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the highlight stars in Hollywood, have to take that next step and put the Clippers in a position to cash in on the immense potential we all see on that roster. They were the missing piece last season in the playoffs, when the Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol exposed the Clippers’ soft underbelly in a first-round playoff ouster of the reigning Pacific Division champs.
The Clippers weren’t tough enough then and Griffin and Jordan clearly didn’t have the seasoning needed to win the series. But Rivers has infused the Clippers’ locker room with a new energy, a new confidence even, that will serve as fuel for Griffin and Jordan.
And it’s time for those two to show up, show out and take some of the pressure off of Paul, the team’s smallest player (in stature). We get our first glimpse tonight, when the Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers open the season at Staples Center (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT). Griffin and Jordan couldn’t ask for a better opening test than the Lakers’ veteran frontcourt of Pau Gasol and ex-Clipper Chris Kaman.
If they want to justify the hype and make Rivers look like a genius for praising and challenging them simultaneously during the past few months, we’ll see it tonight in their play.
When he spoke about Jordan as a potential All-Star, to USA Today Sports‘ Sam Amick, his comments had to strike a (positive) nerve with Jordan — a player with big talent who still lacks the polish needed to dominate both ends of the court.
“He’s an All-Star, and whether he makes it or not I could care less about that part but I’m just saying that he’s at that level,” Rivers said. “DJ has the ability to affect an entire end of the floor. So how good was Deion Sanders? That’s how good DJ is. That’s the way I look at it.”
Griffin is already an All-Star. There’s no stroking of his ego needed. Rivers had to challenge his basketball IQ, his personal fabric and find out if he was willing to go to uncomfortable places within himself to improve and make himself more of a factor this season.
Combined, Griffin and Jordan have the ability to push the Clippers into the true-contender atmosphere. They’re talented enough to be the difference-makers in ways that few players in the league can, due mostly to the fact that they are physically superior to most opposing low-post duos.
But are they mentally tough enough? Are they skilled enough? Are they determined enough to become the collective force of nature that elevates the Clippers?
We’ll get a good sense tonight when the curtain comes up on their 2013-14 season!