Much work needed to be done and Rivers in his role as Clippers coach and president of basketball operations wanted to work in silence as he started preparing for the upcoming NBA season.
Rivers smiled through the redness in his eyes, from being up so early, when the first of several media members arrived in his office on Friday morning to hear him talk about his expectations for the 2016-17 season.
He first showed the Clippers’ playbook sitting on his desk that was about two inches thick. He then talked about the health of his stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and about Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors and them being pegged as the new “Super Team.”
Last season the Clippers had another successful regular season (53-29) and had high hopes going in the playoffs. But that quickly evaporated when they lost a first-round series to the Portland Trail Blazers.
Paul broke his right hand and Griffin reinjured his left quadriceps tendon in Game 4, forcing both to miss the last two games of the series.
Once again there were complaints that the L.A. Clippers still had never made it past the second round of the playoffs.
“You should never run from the truth. That’s true,” Rivers said. “But getting past the second round is such a [expletive] goal. That’s not my goal. My goal is to be the winner. So, to be the winner, part of that is getting past the second round. The second round talk does nothing for me. The endgame is being the winner.”
Rivers quickly pointed out that “we’re not” one of the favorites to win the 2017 NBA championship.
Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has the Warriors as the title favorites at 5-7 odds, with defending NBA champion Cleveland second (5-2), San Antonio third (6-1) and the Clippers fourth (20-1).
“We’re in the conversation,” Rivers said.
So much of the Clippers’ success will be determined by the health of Paul and Griffin, both of whom Rivers said are 100% healthy based on how well they have looked while playing in pickup games at the practice facility.
But Griffin has another cloud hovering over him. He broke his right hand in a fight last January with then Clippers assistant equipment manager Matias Testi.
Griffin penned a letter to Clippers fans on the Players’ Tribune Friday, apologizing for last season.
“It’s been a hard year for Blake – from the knee injury to the Matias thing,” Rivers said. “Blake had a year of life lessons. And that’s OK. I don’t have a problem with that. We all have them. I actually will say Blake is in the best physical and mental place he’s been in since I’ve been here.”
The Clippers will gather together for media day Monday and open their training camp Tuesday at UC Irvine.
In recent weeks Rivers has watched as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has taken a knee during the the national anthem in his quest to raise awareness about racial injustice.
“When I hear people say, you have to stand with your team, that’s true. But there are certain issues that transcend everything,” Rivers said. “This is a very serious problem we have. And to me, none of us are smart enough to know the solutions. But what we can do is start the debate and the talk.
“And usually when enough people get to talking, there are usually results in some type of action. To me, whether you like what Kaepernick did or not – and it’s not for me to tell you if you should or shouldn’t – the fact that you’re reading about a statement that I’m making about it means what he’s doing has had an impact. Now we have to get to the endgame and that’s the hard part.”
On the basketball court, the hard part for the Clippers and the rest of the league will be getting past the Warriors with Durant and two-time MVP Stephen Curry as the expected super team of the NBA.
“There’s always going to be a competitor in our league. There’s never going to be one team that wins it every year,” Rivers said. “There’s always going to be someone that’s standing in front of you and our job is to stand directly in front of them and block their way.…
“But that’s fine, if that’s what people want to believe [about the Warriors]. We’re just not going to believe that crap.”