LOS ANGELES – The information gathering began, Doc Rivers said, four days after he was hired as coach and head of basketball operations for the Clippers. He wanted to learn more about parades. Championship parades. Championship parades for the Clippers.
He couldn’t follow his Boston formula of tracing the route the Patriots took and using it once he coached the Celtics to the 2008 title. He certainly wouldn’t copy the Lakers’ path through downtown, not when the whole point is for the Clippers to hammer out their own identity. Maybe the NHL’s Kings. Rivers could have road tested Lord Stanley’s 2012 ride. And he never would have guessed that teams have to pay at least part of the bill for the celebration.
“I’ve researched enough to know what we can do,” he said.
Welcome to the new Clippers. Rivers not only undertook the project in the summer, he didn’t care who knew about it by opening night Tuesday against the Lakers, a move so full of bravado, a move so overflowing with confidence, a move so … so … Phil Jackson.
The plan to build a championship culture won’t be based on any of their offensive pyrotechnics that can be so fun but still resulted in a 2-0 series lead against Memphis becoming a 4-2 elimination in the first round. It was obvious by opening night that this will be about the demanding expectations of a coach who knows what it takes to win in June, not any Lob City highlight reel, even if it means personally dropping those expectations on his players by happening to mention parade prep. The Clippers traded a 2015 first-round pick to Celtics and hired Rivers at $7 million a season and gave him final say on personnel moves for his locker-room credibility, because he had a hammer few in the business could come close to matching, and he will swing it hard.
That was also obvious Tuesday at Staples Center, right about the time Rivers was asked about the story in Yahoo! that the meddling ways of Donald T. Sterling nearly blew up the summer three-team trade with the Suns and Bucks and the free-agent deal with J.J. Redick as the shooter the coach coveted to fan out around Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Most coaches, and probably every other coach, would have covered for their owner, because it’s not like Sterling is the first to want to pull the plug on what seemed to be a done deal. Not Doc.
Rivers said he hasn’t read the article but had been told of the details and they were accurate. A fastball right under Sterling’s chin before the season had even started: Not even the owner will be let off the hook, and, P.S., stay out of the way from now on.
The move by Rivers to cover the Lakers’ championship banners and retired jerseys on the Staples Center wall at Clippers home games was the least of it, no matter how much some people tried to turn it into a big deal. It was a conversation point around here for several days and continued into Tuesday night because it was L.A. vs. L.A. as a Lakers home game, and also because any topic involving the Lakers begins with hyperventilating and gets more frantic from there. But, really, it was nothing.
This was a bold move? The only discussion should have been why didn’t anyone from the Clippers go for the same interior decorating years ago. All this talk about Rivers and his hard line against the Lakers and it wasn’t even in the top two for the night.
Besides, turning Tuesday into some city showdown was way too near-sighted when the Lakers are staring at problems beyond who else plays in their building and the Clippers are in the best position ever to conquer more than the city. It’s why any attempt to turn the 116-103 Lakers victory behind an unexpectedly strong bench into a screaming rebuttal is shallow, because the actual topics are greater than the season series and certainly one game. The only real value of the matchup was in the convenient scheduling of immediately providing the contrast of organization success the Clippers hope to emulate, as in when Rivers was asked about trying to develop a winning culture as opposed to the history he walked into with the Celtics.
“There’s none,” Rivers said, prompting snickering from the media. “You can say it. It’s OK. It doesn’t hurt us. It’s the truth. And we decided not to run from the truth really. You’re right. I came from, as someone said earlier, from decorated to undecorated, and that’s what we want to forge ahead, is to have some decorations. It’s different. You don’t have the Bill Russells to call and talk to the team. You don’t have that history. We have to forge our own. That makes it more difficult obviously, but if you can succeed, I think the feeling of success will be greater.”
Now all the Clippers have to do is build their positive tradition.
“That’s from Day 1,” Rivers said. “It’s a long haul. Listen, we do have to do it first. That’s how you do it honestly. We just have to keep building and getting. We have to stay focused on that boring process that everyone talks about. That’s what you have to do. There’s no shortcuts and there’s no guarantees. That’s the neat part to me. When you want something that’s great, there’s no guarantees. You open your heart up to your team, your team opens up to you, and you take the risk of getting your heart broken. I’ve had mine broken many times, and it’s damn worth it. It absolutely is worth it.”
So he tries to build a unique chemistry and maneuver around the owner’s emotions and invite pressure for his players in a way that will jumpstart a run to June. Because Doc Rivers will have a plan in place if the Clippers win then.