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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Doc Rivers inherited a Los Angeles Clippers team that won 56 games and set franchise records last season. Now it’s up to him to get the veterans and a mix of newcomers to do what the franchise has never done — make a sustained playoff run.
“We have a chance to do something,” he said Monday at the team’s media day. “I believe we can (win a title), but we have a lot of work to do first.”
Rivers took over in late June, replacing Vinny Del Negro as coach while adding the duties of senior vice president of basketball operations. He’ll get to know his new team starting Tuesday when the Clippers spend a week in San Diego for training camp, or as Rivers calls it “a bonding trip.”
Matt Barnes, who re-signed with the team this summer, suggested Rivers “could be the missing piece.”
The player who most caught Rivers’ eye this summer was Blake Griffin, whose well-known work ethic was even greater than what Rivers had heard.
“Nothing gets in the way of basketball and that is maturity for a young player,” Rivers said.
Heading into his fourth season, Griffin said, “This is probably the most excited I’ve ever been.”
Much of it has to do with the presence of Rivers, who coached the Boston Celtics to a championship in 2008, giving him instant credibility with a Clippers bunch aching for that kind of accomplishment.
“We have higher expectations for ourselves than anybody else,” Griffin said. “We have made some strides as an organization, but we don’t have any championships. We don’t feel we’ve arrived until we win a championship.”
Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan are among the Clippers still feeling the sting of losing in the first round of the playoffs to Memphis. That motivated the trio, along with several of their teammates, to gather at the team’s practice facility for workouts and informal games since Labor Day.
Rivers met individually with the players and had a message for Paul.
“He told me I hadn’t really done anything in this league and he’s right,” said the All-Star guard, who signed a five-year deal worth nearly $108 million as a free agent in July.
Rivers made it clear he doesn’t want to play Paul 45 minutes a game.
“You want him to have as much freedom as possible,” Rivers said of Paul. “You want him to be great and the other guys being great at the same time.”
Rivers is targeting Jordan for defensive improvement, with a goal of getting the sixth-year big man on the league’s all-defensive team.
“I have to set an example,” Jordan said. “I have confidence and he (Rivers) makes me even more confident.”
Besides Jordan, Rivers is focused on improving the Clippers’ defense, whether it’s guarding the 3-point line or in transition. He wants to see Griffin and Jordan on the floor more in the fourth quarter, too.
“I need to step up and really be one of these guys you can count on at the end of games,” Griffin said. “Not just scoring-wise, defensively.”
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