It was no longer just Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and the other guys.
Stretching in one corner of the gym was Paul Pierce, a former NBA Finals most valuable player. Grabbing rebounds during an informal scrimmage was Josh Smith, one of the game’s most versatile forwards. Leading a fastbreak was Lance Stephenson, who once had more triple-doubles in a season than the rest of the league combined.
The college coaches who were allowed to watch the Clippers open training camp Saturday afternoon at UC Irvine were wowed by the quality of the quantity of players before them.
“The first thing they said is, ‘Jeez, there’s just so much more talent on the floor,’” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said.
That depth revealed itself when a second unit of Stephenson, Smith, Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers and Wes Johnson beat the starters at one point. Griffin seemed impressed, not perturbed.
“Now you have one through five coming off the bench that could possibly go anywhere else and start,” Griffin said.
Doc Rivers said he would mix and match his lineups to seek the best fits, inserting Pierce into the second unit on Sunday. The second unit he constructed Saturday had the 6-foot-9 Smith as its tallest player, giving Rivers a look at one of the small-ball lineups he could use this season. The plan is to use one small lineup each day in training camp to help players adjust to the different permutations.
Rivers said he was encouraging a ballhandler-by-committee approach among his son, Stephenson and Crawford, though there were hiccups Saturday. Twice the trio ran up the court without any of them collecting the ball, forcing Smith to handle it. Maybe the new approach should be dubbed “Expect Mystery.”
“If we don’t know who’s bringing it up,” Crawford said, “then I know the defense doesn’t know as well.”
Minister of offense?
Rivers said he wanted Jordan, a reigning first-team All-NBA defender, to be more involved on offense. But what does that look like? What kinds of moves will it entail?
Rivers said Jordan will need to be less unselfish, regularly posting up instead of always looking to set picks. There were times last season, Rivers said, when Jordan beat his opposing big man down the court in transition and set a pick on a guard instead of trying to post him up.
“We were like, ‘Why would you ever do that?’” Rivers said. “ ‘Go put your head under the basket and force them to do something.’ That doesn’t mean D.J. will get the shot, but he’s going to create action by doing that.”
One thing apparently won’t change: Jordan’s form on his free throws.
“Nothing different,” Jordan said when asked if he had tried a new approach this summer. “Same.”
The Clippers have made defensive improvement a priority, particularly on pick-and-roll coverages, but their offense isn’t getting a free pass. Rivers said his team’s analytics showed stagnant ball movement over the last eight minutes of games last season, something he is seeking to fix.... Rivers said the Clippers were taking it somewhat easy on Stephenson because he was recovering from a tweaked groin sustained about a month ago. The coach said he preferred to keep Stephenson with the second unit, meaning either Pierce or Johnson will probably be the starting small forward.... Rivers allowed his team to listen to rap music for portions of practice for the first time. “I thought there was going to be some Earth, Wind & Fire,” Jordan joked of Rivers’ musical inclinations. "[Rivers] said we’re going to have old-school Friday, though.”