"Doc" Arrives to Heal the Clippers
By Mitch Chortkoff
Glenn Rivers played basketball at Marquette University where Al McGuire was the coach.
I remember he was Glenn Rivers at the time so I recently asked him where "Doc" came from.
"Al McGuire," he replied.
He paused for a moment, then completed the answer.
"He couldn't remember my name."
That was a long time ago but the nickname has stuck through Rivers' NBA playing and coaching careers.
And now Doc has arrived to heal what's been ailing the Los Angeles Clippers.
Specifically, the fact that the Clippers have never won an NBA championship and they share Staples Center with the Lakers, who've won 16.
Make no mistake about it. The Clippers' management and the Clippers' fans are obsessed with winning an NBA championship.
Evidence is provided by the fact the Clippers fired Vinny del Negro after he guided the Clippers to a franchise record 56 wins last season, including an 18-game winning streak.
First round playoff elimination isn't being tolerated by Clippers management anymore.
I think there are about eight teams capable of winning this season's NBA championship, and the Clippers are merely one of them.
But Clipper fans are encouraged that, according to a variety of NBA experts, the Lakers aren't one of those teams.
So, beginning with opening night next Tuesday, when the Clippers play the Lakers, a season of great optimism among Clippers' followers gets underway.
When I met with Clipper players during recent exhibition games I was surprised to hear so many praising a coach they haven't played for yet.
"I've never been so excited at the start of a season," said 33-year-old Matt Barnes.
"I was a free agent and could have made more money by signing with another team. But we have Doc as coach now and we've put ourselves in a position to win a championship."
Darren Collison and J.J. Redick, two new guards, were also free agents.
"Doc is the reason I'm here," said Redick. "When I became a free agent I didn't think much about the Clippers. Then Doc called and explained how I could help this team."
Said Collison: "Doc gave me the call too. I backed up Chris Paul in New Orleans when I was a rookie out of UCLA. Since then I've been a starter in the league and the idea of backing him up again now that I have experience appeals to me. Also I know with Doc coaching there'll be times when Chris and I will on the court together."
Rivers coached the 2008 Boston Celtics to an NBA championship. The fact that he's got a championship on his resume appeals to players who've had a measure of NBA success but never the big prize.
"We've taken strides as an organization recently but we've never won a championship," said Blake Griffin.
Paul, generally regarded as one of the NBA's best point guards, recalls his first meeting with Rivers.
"He told me I haven't accomplished anything yet," said Paul, who didn't take that as an insult. "He's right. We play to be the best team and we haven't achieved that."
Among last season's accomplishments the Clippers beat the Lakers in all four of their meetings. One night when the Lakers were the home team the Clippers scored the first 15 points of the game.
Rivers' one championship on his resume gives the Clippers confidence he can take them there.
"Every game, every practice is preparation for the playoffs," said Rivers.
There's an interesting difference in the philosophy of Los Angeles' two NBA coaches.
The Lakers' Mike D'Antoni is well known for featuring a high-scoring, fast-moving offense.
Rivers would like that too but his experience has shown him big, physical teams do best in the playoffs
"Big wins," he said.
Rivers is working on center DeAndre Jordan's tendency to get into foul trouble.
Also, on Jordan's poor free throw shooting which led del Negro to remove him down the stretch.
"We need DeAndre in the game in the fourth quarter," said Griffin.
The season's first week will be especially interesting.
The Lakers have three tough games, home against the Clippers, at Golden State the next night and home Friday night against San Antonio.
The Clippers will host Golden State two nights after opening against the Lakers.