LOS ANGELES – He has spent part of his summer enjoying the culinary delights that this cosmopolitan city has to offer. Rarely has Doc Rivers had to pay a cent.
The reason? The Los Angeles Clippers spent last summer landing Kawhi Leonard (as a free agent) and Paul George (in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder). Therefore, the Clippers have the chance to win an NBA championship in a city that has loved the Lakers more.
“I got a couple of free meals out of it,” Rivers joked recently. “You also know if you don’t win it, you have (to) pay for the rest of them.”
The 29 other NBA teams would love to make Rivers pay for his tabs once again. Rivers seems partly driven by not needing to pick up the check again.
“I’m not going to be out in the front saying we’re going to win it. But I’m fine if that’s what everybody thinks,” Rivers said. “Why run from expectations? I’ve never understood that.”
The Clippers appear in prime position to win their first NBA title in franchise history, and the reasons go beyond the acquisitions of Leonard and George. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has deep pockets. Clippers general manager Lawrence Frank and legendary consultant Jerry West are well respected. Rivers has been a Hall-of-Fame caliber coach. The Clippers tested the Golden State Warriors in last season's first-round playoff series, pushing it to six games because of the team’s depth and hustle.
Still, plenty of the Clippers’ success this season hinges on how productive and healthy Leonard and George remain.
After playing in nine games because of complications with a quadriceps injury in his final year in San Antonio, Leonard joined the Toronto Raptors and “load management” became part of the league’s lexicon. After winning an NBA title in his lone season in Toronto, will Leonard follow the same program?
“I don’t anticipate that being an issue,” Rivers said. “It helps we’re a pretty deep team.”
As for George? Frank said that George has “made great progress” since having off-season surgery on his left shoulder, but declined to provide a timetable on his possible return.
The Clippers also have nine players from a bench that led the NBA last season in scoring (53.4 points per game), including Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, JaMychal Green, Patrick Beverley and Landry Shamet. The Clippers also acquired Maurice Harkless in an offseason trade, and Rivers might also depend on rookies Mfiondu Kabengale and Terance Mann. Therefore, Rivers said his offense will center around Leonard, George and “parts of the right system for them and the team.”
“I don’t know if I’ve done the parade route and all of that. But you have to at least envision it,” Rivers said. “I find myself doing that. Then you have to do the work.”
That way, Rivers will not have to pay for many meals again.