BY HELENE ELLIOTT
LOS ANGELES TIMES/MCT
LOS ANGELES — Because Doc Rivers had played one season for the Clippers, he pretty much knew where he wanted to live when he moved to Los Angeles to become their coach and senior vice president of basketball operations. He didn’t know how odd the whole experience would feel as he moved things around his new condo last week.
“It’s strange to be anywhere other than Boston right now, honestly,” he said. “I was in one place for nine years and I didn’t have any plans of not being in that place. It kind of came so quickly. Usually you plan yourself. You kind of say, ‘This is my last year here, then I’m going to go somewhere else.’ ”
He paused, then laughed. “So in that way it’s different,” said Rivers, who didn’t want to be part of the Celtics’ rebuilding and led an exodus that continued with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry being traded from Boston to the Brooklyn Nets. “But the excitement and the energy that I have because it’s something new, that’s been great. In retrospect, it’s probably what I needed.”
‘Expectations are great’
As much as he needs fresh scenery, the Clippers will need his strategizing and motivational skills to meet the high expectations they will face this season.
With Blake Griffin in his prime and Chris Paul secured to a five-year, $107.3-million extension, winning a playoff round or two won’t be enough for this team. Rivers must make the players’ considerable individual talents add up to a cohesive whole, polish their many assets, and solidify their defense before they can be a championship contender in a rugged conference.
“The expectations are great. I don’t want us to shrink from that at all. I don’t want us to run from that,” he said. “But what we’ve got to get our guys to understand is expectations are one thing. Realization is a whole different thing, and just because you’re expected to do anything doesn’t mean you’ve arrived.
“We have not arrived. We didn’t win a playoff series last year. So we have a lot of work to do as a group. We should expect to do that work. We have to expect that it’s going to be much harder and we have to embrace it and do it.”
From Orlando to L.A.
For most of the summer, since prolonged talks brought him to the Clippers in late June in exchange for a first-round draft pick, Rivers has traveled from his Orlando home to spend four days a week in Los Angeles. He has analyzed game films — an ongoing task — and talked to players while they have worked out at the Clippers’ Playa Vista facility.
He has deliberately limited the chats. “I don’t try to overdo that,” he said. “I recognize that, at least hopefully, we’re together a long time next season. They’ll hear my voice enough. I talk to them enough to try to get a feel on their thoughts on the team and their teammates and all that stuff.”
His conclusions aren’t surprising. He sees no urgency to make massive changes and he credited his predecessor, Vinny Del Negro, for providing a solid foundation.
“Listen, they won 56 games, so they’re not all bad,” Rivers said. “That’s why I’m watching all the films, because there are things that you absolutely want to continue to do. Vinny did so many good things here. And you want to continue to do some of those things, and then you want to add some of the areas where you think you can make improvements.
“As athletic as we are, we didn’t run enough. We have to get up and down the floor more offensively. We have to do a better job of our spacing offensively. And we have to find a way to close games. Over anything, that’s what stands out. We have to execute as a group better. Each guy has to buy into that execution, and so there’s things we have to do.”
Needs big lineup
Acquiring premier outside shooters Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick in a three-way trade with Phoenix and Milwaukee adds a wrinkle and should open the floor.
“That was very important for us, to add shooting. Because we’re athletic. We just need more skill,” Rivers said. “I thought we needed more veterans like that, guys that are still pretty much in the middle of their career and they kind of know their skill set, so they’re not going to get in your way. I thought that was important.”
Rivers is still tinkering with some ideas.
“We have to have a big lineup that you can function with, with DeAndre (Jordan) and Blake, and we also have to have a small lineup as well that is a very functional team. And I think that’s an area where we really have to improve in,” Rivers said.
He has less than six more weeks to figure that out and plan to prepare players to meet higher expectations. He sounds as if he has a handle on it.
“We haven’t proven we can be a good team yet,” he said. “We’ve proven that we can be an exciting team. We have to prove that we can be a good team.”