LOS ANGELES – In his first formal public remarks as Los Angeles Clippers head coach, Doc Rivers praised Chris Paul and talked about forming one of the best defensive frontlines in the NBA with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
Of the trio of players, there was little doubt on who ranked highest.
"I like players that have the fire about them so I've always liked Chris because of that," Rivers said on Wednesday at the Clippers' training facility. "Obviously, he's a priority so obviously that's important."
A season after stealing some of the Los Angeles spotlight from the Lakers, the Clippers got the championship-caliber coach from the Boston Celtics in hopes of retaining Paul, who will be a free agent next month.
Rivers was officially introduced as the Clippers' new coach and senior vice president of basketball operations on Wednesday. After two weeks of negotiations with the Celtics over compensation, Rivers attempted to put the attention back on the players. Drawing back to his days in Boston with a perennially strong defense centered around Kevin Garnett, Rivers expressed optimism about Griffin and Jordan.
"With DeAndre and Blake, I think you can absolutely form an unbelievable defense," Rivers said. "They're long, they're athletic. That always starts a good defense. We have that in-house right now."
Clippers center Ryan Hollins, who played for Rivers in Boston, praised Rivers' ability to manage a locker room.
"It's a family-type atmosphere," Hollins said. "I remember when I first came into the thing he said ‘You're going to love our guys. We laugh, we joke, but when it's time to get serious we're about winning. We get down to business.' And you respect that."
The Clippers, who won 56 games and their first Pacific Division title, lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Memphis Grizzlies. It was a step back for the Paul- and Griffin-led team and prompted coach Vinny del Negro's firing and the eventual landing of Rivers.
"I don't really understand what all the fuss is. It's not even the first time we've given up a first-round pick for Doc," said Clippers president Andy Roeser, referring to the 1991 trade for Rivers when he was a player that sent the Atlanta Hawks a first-round pick and two second-rounders.
The Clippers are a far different franchise from then, as Rivers noted while walking down memory lane with Roeser.
"Andy if you remember when I played for the Clips, every morning we would wake up and call Keith, our trainer, and ask where we're practicing because we didn't know. And that was normal throughout the league, it wasn't just here. Now we have this facility, we're playing in the Staples Center, we have players who want to play here, we're bringing players in talking about winning and so that's the transformation, but that's what good players do."
Come this summer, he and the Clippers hope Paul is one of those players in a Clippers uniform.
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