It's been an eventful offseason for the Clippers, who were deep in the Kevin Durant chase before losing out to the Warriors. Coach Doc Rivers also had to refute growing rumors that impending free agent Blake Griffin was going to be shipped out of town, perhaps to Boston.
By adding Durant, the Warriors became the prohibitive favorites to win the NBA championship. The road to the Finals will be even more difficult for the Clippers. And that means more pressure on Rivers, who left the Celtics after the 2012-13 season for the express purpose of leading the Clippers to prosperity.
So far Rivers and the Clippers have fallen short, including last season's first-round playoff disposal at the hands of the Trail Blazers with Griffin and Chris Paul out with injuries.
Constrained by the salary cap, Rivers went out and did the best he could to remain one the league's best teams, re-signing his son Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford, and adding former Celtic Brandon Bass, ex-Warrior Marreese Speights, and former Knick and Maverick Raymond Felton.
Will it be good enough to make a title run? Not likely, but Rivers won't count his guys out, despite the immense pressure to produce.
During their pursuit of Durant, the Clippers created a scenario for him to be the focal point of the offense. Durant was intrigued.
"The Celtics and us and Oklahoma [City], we all thought we were going to get Kevin Durant," Rivers said. "I don't have a problem with that, I really don't. I think the players have a right. They take the risk of being free agents.
"A lot of guys could sign early and play it safe. A lot of these guys take a risk because of their health. Durant did that, and when we left the meeting, we thought he was coming to us. When Boston left the meeting, they thought he was coming to them. I think Golden State knew where he was going. Good for them. But you've still got to play the game."
Durant could make the Warriors an unstoppable offensive team, with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Rivers said it's pretty difficult to improve on a team that was one win from a second consecutive championship.
"I'm not sure [if the landscape changed with Durant] because [the Warriors] were pretty good already," Rivers said. "This two years with the balloon [salary cap] has allowed teams to do what happened. I think that's the only drawback. It was just normal free agency. Actually, the Celtics probably would have had a better opportunity [to sign Durant] because there wouldn't have been so many other teams involved. We certainly wouldn't have been involved."
The Clippers could come into this season with an unexpected boost from DeAndre Jordan, who helped the United States earn a third consecutive gold medal at the Rio Olympics. Jordan worked his way into the starting lineup over DeMarcus Cousins, and then flourished defensively in the international game.
The hope for Rivers is that Jordan will take the momentum generated by his Olympic experience and become a more confident and assertive player.
"He sees himself now as a star," Rivers said. "As good as he is, I don't think he's ever seen himself as one. He's always been the third guy so he's looked at himself as a role player in some ways. Now he knows how good he is and I think any time you're around winning, it's important, and I think DJ now knows what winning looks like.
"Of all our guys, I think he's the most important guy this summer for us."
As Cousins became more infuriated with the tight international officiating, Jordan adjusted and became more of a defensive presence at the beginning of games, which sparked Team USA's run.
"Actually the international game is more physical at times; I knew he'd be dominant defensively and I knew he would fit that team," Rivers said. "That team had a lot of guys that wanted to shoot, so you put the one guy that doesn't really want to shoot with the four shooters. I think the change that [Mike Krzyzewski] made starting him was a big change."
Rivers spent the past few months denying rumors that Griffin was on the trade block as he enters the last year of his contract. It was never quite clear how the Clippers would have fit Durant into their salary cap with Griffin still there.
"We knew none of it was true," Rivers said of the Griffin rumors. "We figured that it was one of your guys starting these rumors here in Boston. I was trying to find out who it was. Blake and Chris Paul are free agents and just like last year, Oklahoma had to deal with that, now it's our turn.
"The rumors are so bogus, that's the problem. If the rumors had any truth to them, then it would be hard to go to your player and say there's no truth to them. It's easy right now, the rumors are so bogus."
Still, Rivers realizes those rumors could resurface in February if the Clippers aren't faring well. No team wants to be put in Oklahoma City's situation, in which it waits on a player to make a decision at the end of his contract only to be left with no compensation if he goes elsewhere.
"Blake and CP are free agents and just like last year, Oklahoma had to deal with that — now it's our turn," Rivers said. "It's been a sense of urgency since we've been there, in my opinion. And we haven't followed through yet, and there's another sense of urgency here. We're not the only ones. Everyone has a sense of urgency."
Iverson reflects on eventful career
As he is enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend, Allen Iverson reflected on his career and some regrets. One thing that pains Iverson is his Olympic experience and how he felt rather forgotten by Team USA afterward.
Iverson was a part of the infamous 2004 US squad that lost an unprecedented three games and finished with the bronze medal in Athens, the second time in 32 years Team USA had fallen short of gold in an Olympics. And it was the first time a group of NBA players had lost during Olympic competition.
Iverson was largely blamed for the downfall because the team was perceived as selfish and lacked chemistry. But what has been forgotten is the number of NBA players who passed on those Athens Games. Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, and Jason Kidd all elected not to play, leaving Iverson on an island.
"That was a very touchy situation for me because when everybody didn't end up going, me and Tim Duncan went," Iverson said. "We went to represent our country. That's no shot at the guys that didn't go. I totally understand why they didn't. I totally understand and all of them remain my friends. I still have the utmost respect for all of those guys. But me and Tim went."
When Team USA rebuilt its Olympic squad for Beijing in 2008, Iverson was not invited.
"As great as a season as I had, arguably one of the best seasons that I ever had, I wasn't invited to go, that's something that I wouldn't say hurt me to this day, but the acknowledgment is there," he said. "And the hurt will always exist because I felt that I truly should have been a part of the team. I should obviously be saying that I have a gold medal at 41 years old."
Celtics set sights on the next level
Training camp is creeping up — the first Celtics' practice is Sept 27 in Waltham. Coach Brad Stevens has a revamped roster featuring major free agent addition Al Horford and Gerald Green, and there are high expectations after a 48-win season.
During the ABCD Hoop Dreams benefit at TD Garden last week, Stevens touched on what it would take to get to the next level.
"We have to be a lot more efficient offensively," he said. "But the problem with that is, once you emphasize one thing, you can't slack in another area," he said. "The game is always going to come down to not turning it over, getting the best shot that you can, and then making sure you're good and consistent with the way you play effort-wise and focus-wise on the defensive end."
The club will have to replace Evan Turner, who became one of the more versatile players on the team. He signed a four-year, $70 million contract with the Trail Blazers. Turner was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate who averaged 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists during his final season in Boston.
"That's going to be a tough role to fill," Stevens said. "[Turner] was a heck of a player for us. He made huge plays at the end of games. He made big, big shots. His shooting percentages were not always great but when the game was on the line or the clock was winding down, you felt like it had a good chance of going in. He made free throws late in games and he guarded two or three positions.
"We've got a lot of guys who will get an opportunity to step up and fill his void. But it is a void. We'll find out what guys' strengths are and try to piece them all together."
It's been a difficult past few months for Stevens regarding his beloved Butler University. A few months after Stevens favorite Andrew Smith, who helped the Bulldogs to the Final Four, died of cancer at age 25, Joel Cornette, a forward during Stevens's days as an assistant at the school, died of heart failure at age 35. Stevens served as a pallbearer at his funeral.
"We were fortunate to spend a lot of good weeks together with our [Celtics] group in Las Vegas, see a lot of guys at Isaiah Thomas's wedding, and spend time with my staff and some of the players who are back now, so you get a chance to spend time together," Stevens said. "But that was really tough, to go back to Indianapolis and have to go through the death of another not only great young player at Butler but just an incredible person."
Cornette served as an agent for Priority Sports, which represents Celtics guard R.J. Hunter.
"The best compliment I can give Joel Cornette is that he made us all believe that something bigger than what everybody else expected could happen," Stevens said. "He impacted not only his teams but teams thereafter, and I think we all took a lot from him so it was tough to go back. It was great to celebrate his life but tough to mourn his loss.
"I've been a big Gerald Green fan because I've been scared of him. And I think that's a great way to figure out how good a player is, when you go into the game and he is on your scouting report, maybe in a highlighted way because he can go off for a lot of points in a short amount of time.
"He can change the course of a game. Does he do it every night? Historically, no. But he's had moments and times where he's done that, so I think he brings a spurtability to us that we've clearly needed from a scoring standpoint.
"We've talked about Tyler [Zeller], consistency and approach, regardless of minutes. He's been a great pro, he's had great moments here both as a player and as a teammate and we're thrilled that he's back."
Allen Iverson was asked about his individuality and why he stuck to his convictions on philosophy and appearance. "I always felt like, why isn't it cool to be you?" he said. "What's wrong with being you with your flaws. Your mistakes. With the way you look. With your financial status. The way you talk. What's wrong with that? God gave you all of those things. That's the way he wanted you to be, so why are you ashamed of it? When it comes to basketball, yes I wanted to be like Michael [Jordan]. Yes. Didn't everybody that played basketball after he arrived? Everybody wanted to be like Mike, but I didn't want to be him. I didn't want to talk like him. I didn't want to dress like him. I felt that it was cool being who my mom loved, who my sister loved, who my girl loved, who my children love. That's cool to me." . . . Stevens said he has known for weeks the type of team he will lead next season: "Ever since the end of July I've had a pretty good idea of what we're going to look like as a team and who's going to help us in what way. Now it's a matter of putting the pieces together and playing well. We're going to have to be better than we were to finish where we did. I think the East is better. We'll find out. Time will tell." . . . One player to watch who could help a contending team during the season is former Heat and Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers, who is recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon sustained at TD Garden on March 9. Chalmers won't be healthy for the beginning of the season but could aid a team seeking point-guard help as a midseason addition . . . Stevens is the keynote speaker at the Coaches vs. Cancer Tip-off reception on Sept. 20 at the State Room in Boston. Coaches from Boston College, Harvard, Holy Cross, Northeastern, Boston University, and UMass will be in attendance. Tickets are $250 per person and are available at www.TipOffMadnessMA.org. . . . The NBADL Maine Red Claws will hold tryouts on Sept. 24 at the Celtics' practice facility from 3-6 p.m. Tryout cost is $150 and more information is available on the Red Claws' website.