I went to a season ticket holder event today at the Clippers practice facility. Aside from seeing the facility up close (which rocks), it was a great opportunity to see forty generally out-of-shape guys (me included) go through a one hour practice/scrimmage led by John Lucas. The highlight was appearances by Baron (Starbucks coffee in hand, but no Krispy Kreme doughnut), DeAndre and Eric Gordon. Although Baron and DeAndre bailed after about ten minutes, Gordon stayed for the entire session and was a true pro – signing autographs, agreeing to lots of pictures, and participating in a Q&A (along with Lucas) with the fans after the scrimmage. I also spent a few minutes chatting with Eric one-on-one during the scrimmage (when I was gasping for breath). Between that and the Q&A, here is what I learned:
Both Lucas and Gordon (in my one on one) said Blake’s return will be mid-January. Consistent with what they are saying publicly.
I asked Gordon about his hamstring and he said it’s not 100% but close and that although the hammie gets assessed by three people, the decision to play ultimately rested with him. He said he has had hamstring injuries before so he has a good sense for how he recovers. I asked him whether he would be playing in the Orlando game and he said “absolutely.” Unprompted by me, he said that Orlando was good but that he thought they had a chance to play them well. He’s only one player, but he did not sound like a guy who sort of gives up and assumes ahead of time that they’re going to lose to good teams.
A few times during the session, Lucas playfully mocked those fans who constantly complain about the physical fitness of the players, how they run, etc. By the end of the session when we were all wheezing, he brought it up again.
Someone asked about Sterling. Lucas likened Sterling to a big brother who needs to sometimes call out the younger siblings when they’re not playing up to par, but he also said that Sterling came into the locker room after the Memphis game to congratulate the team. As Lucas said, “people forget that he is a fan too.”
Someone asked Lucas about the "Fire Dunleavy" chants and whether the players hear them, and everyone laughed. But in a completely spontaneous, emphatic way, Eric said “Yeah, it’s incredibly annoying.” I couldn’t see whether he rolled his eyes or not, but it was clear that he personally did not like the chants.
I was a bit surprised that Gordon emphasized the importance of the crowd in getting the players amped up. He said the fourth quarter of the Memphis game was the loudest he had ever heard in Staples since he joined the team.
A fan asked why the team plays well against good teams but doesn’t bring the same level of intensity, Lucas talked about the need to change the culture of the team and he even used it to bash the “Lakers mystique” a bit.
During the Q&A, I asked Gordon what he thinks about the fact that he regularly outplays Mayo and Westbrook yet they get a lot more press. Specifically, I asked him whether it bothers him, does he use it as motivation, etc. and he immediately said “I definitely use it as motivation.” He then asked Lucas to tell a story about how Mayo texted Lucas before the last game (Lucas literally pulled out his phone and read the text) and it said something like. “Tell Gordon he better be [playing] at the game. I have a present for him.” And of course, Lucas implied the joke was on Mayo because Gordon consistently shuts Mayo down. But Lucas added (in a nice way) that one of Gordon’s challenges is to be more “vocal” – I’m assuming he meant both on and off the court.
Lucas spent a lot of time talking about his own expectations were to play .500 ball during the first 20 games. He said injuries are not meant to be an excuse for inadequate play, but they exist nonetheless and the team was still a work in progress in terms of developing a culture and identity.
When someone asked whether the players get down on one another, Gordon tried to take the high road and said that wasn’t the case, that they just get frustrated with excessive turnovers, etc. but Lucas (perhaps sensing an opportunity to provide a different perspective) took over answering the question. Paraphrasing, he said that they team gets along incredibly well off the court but their challenge was to get along just as well on the court. Interesting…
A few fans asked questions around x’s and o’s (e.g., one around tempo and one around Kaman), but Lucas was incredibly effective (in an almost Socratic way) of engaging in a dialogue with the fan about how addressing one issue almost always raises another set of issues and questions to address, i.e., the solutions are not as simple as they might appear. For example, when the fan asked about running, Lucas said running is made so much easier when the team rebounds, so how should you manage the balance between offensive speed and rebounding in terms of the players out on the floor at a given time (I think he might have mentioned Griffin’s absence in that example). There is no question that Lucas is a great addition to the staff.
And to state the obvious, Gordon is just built like a Mack truck. I’m 6’2” and he is slightly taller than me, but he is just so thickly built.