With one franchise stud already in place, the Boston Celtics managed to secure both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the summer of 2007, all for the price of lottery pick Jeff Green, some expiring contracts, and Al Jefferson. It was a stunning haul that immediately established Boston’s “Big Three,” which later led the team to the championship in 2008.
The coach of that squad was Doc Rivers, who is entering his first year running the Los Angeles Clippers from the sideline. Though most observers would easily sign off on giving the Clippers their own “Big Three” while including Rivers’ established and well-regarded acumen alongside point guard Chris Paul and forward Blake Griffin, the Clippers coach would prefer that an actual active player take his place in that triptych.
All while setting the sky as the limit for a Clippers team that hasn’t even played its first exhibition game yet. From ESPN Los Angeles’s Arash Markazi:
"They should be better than any team I've ever coached, I really believe that," Rivers said. "They're more athletic. They don't have the veteran IQ but they should be in that area. We have a couple of individual defenders that can be dominating on defense. We have great speed but we don't have the size in some ways as some of the teams I've coached."
"That's our big three, I like our big three," Rivers said. "I like what DeAndre [Jordan] gives us. He gives us something a lot of the guys in the league can't do. He can block shots, he can run the floor, he can defend, he's talking and he's in the best shape of his career. He's doing a lot of great things for us."
Rivers said he expects Jordan to be in the running for defensive player of the year this season and has spent the first two days of the Clippers' training camp in San Diego focusing on defense. Rivers expects the Clippers to be one of the best defensive teams in the league this season.
Sure, it’s true that DeAndre Jordan “can defend,” as Rivers states, but years of NBA evidence points to clip after clip of DeAndre working as a terribly limited defender in spite of all the shots he sends back. Jordan and Blake Griffin’s pick and roll and help defense needs serious help, but with a consistent defensive philosophy in place (something that former Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro was criticized for being unable to cobble together during stops in Chicago and Los Angeles), the Clippers are hoping to turn that around. This is why most consider Doc Rivers one of the more significant acquisitions of the 2013 offseason.
Beyond that, it’s hard to quibble with the idea of Rivers comparing his Los Angeles and Boston teams. Even if the idea of a “B** Th***” feels like an expletive-laden phrase to Celtics fans that watched their team win one title, make the Finals another year, nearly make the Finals in a third, and likely come within a Kevin Garnett injury from making the Finals in 2009.
Yes, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen had 21 All-Star appearances and one MVP award to their combined credit when they hooked up prior to the 2007-08 season, and it’s true that even in a best case scenario Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan won’t end up with anywhere near the total accolades that Boston’s Big Three eventually will, but this triptych could top the team in one category: NBA championship rings.
That’s not heresy. Even with Allen currently residing with the two-time defending champs and KG and Pierce working with the championship-or-bust Brooklyn Nets, all three players have “only” been a part of two championship squads. The Clippers have the NBA’s best point guard, and a power forward in Griffin that has the potential to act as the NBA’s best power forward. If Rivers can mold Jordan into an all-around, game-changing center in ways that don’t show up in the box score, the Clippers could rule the roost while teams like Miami, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City all possibly stare down an uncertain future because of myriad age, financial, and health reasons.
As was the case when Tom Thibodeau, Rivers’ lead assistant during the first three seasons of Boston’s Big Three run, took the coaching reins in Chicago after Del Negro’s turn, these Clippers appear to be aware of the fact that clowntime is over. Even in the first year of Paul’s run with Los Angeles, it seemed as if the Clippers were just a coach or at least philosophy away from truly competing, and Rivers’ presence and Ubuntu-leanings is a needed tonic for a team that disappointed with a first round exit last season.
"Lob City doesn't exist anymore. Lob City is done," Griffin told ESPN's Shelley Smith in an interview this week. "We're moving on and we're going to find our identity during training camp and that will be our new city. No more Lob City."
"People will still wear T-shirts," Griffin said. "I can't really go to people's houses and take their T-shirts and cut them up. But we [will] have a new identity as a team and that's going to be what we work out during training camp.
"We'll take about two or three weeks and really come up with something good."
The Clippers don’t really need a new identity, and they certainly don’t need a slogan to fit on a t-shirt.
They need proper spacing, a low post threat to finish ballgames, and a consistent and mindful defensive approach. If Doc Rivers and his three best players can deliver as much, yeah, they’ll definitely have something big in place.
DeAndre Jordan, to his credit, concurs that he has quite a bit of work to do: