The Los Angeles Clippers officially introduced their 2014-15 squad to the media on Monday, and for the most part they followed the typical blueprint. NBA players usually say how they spent their summer working out, how they're focused on building on last season's successes, and how they're ready to move on from last season's disappointments.
And today, when the Clippers said that, you know they really meant it. Even after the former owner's lifetime ban, his ghost followed the Clippers into every moment during their ultimately disappointing playoff run, as well as into the summer as Steve Ballmer fought to buy the team.
"Last year it was a strange playoffs when there were very few basketball questions," Doc Rivers said. "I don't think I've ever encountered a playoffs like that. For three or four games there was not one basketball question, so it'll be nice for all of us to focus on being basketball players and I can focus on being a basketball coach."
Phrases like "the controversy" and "those distractions" lightly peppered conversations today, but were quickly dismissed. Instead, demons the Clippers haven't quite as effectively exorcised were called to the forefront — for example, Chris Paul's inability to make it out of the second round of the playoffs in his nine-year career and the Clippers' terrible Game 5 loss to the Thunder in the Western Conference semifinals.
"It's the truth, it doesn't matter if it's fair or not," Paul said when asked if it was fair that his lack of success in the playoffs could tarnish the way people view his career as a whole. "That's a huge deal, especially to me and us as a team. It'd be nice if we could start the playoffs tomorrow, but we've got a lot of work to do before that. Last year we had a great opportunity, but Game 5 was horrible and it's no secret why we lost Game 5, but I think this year gives us an opportunity to get right back there."
Of course, Paul isn't the only Clipper to blame for a lack of postseason success. Blake Griffin talked about improving his mental toughness in the offseason and focusing on becoming a better leader for the upcoming season.
"Every game, I want to be the guy the guys can depend on down the stretch — depend on to work hard, take care of myself and do the things I need to do," Griffin said. "You can lead in your own way, you just have to be comfortable with it. Because at the end of the day, it's not gonna be the guy who's gonna talk the most or work out the hardest or yell at everybody, it's the guy that guys want to follow."
But the talk on media day wasn't just about poetic emotional growth and renewed focus — there were some great summer anecdotes, too. Matt Barnes talked about showing up to a yoga class in LA tattooed and baggy-clothed, drawing strange looks from the old (though no doubt, flexible) ladies there. Jamal Crawford told of a midnight pickup game that took place the night before his wedding and went until 3 a.m., and JJ Redick likened his newborn son to "an alien from Prometheus." They also lovingly gave Griffin flak for his scintillating GQ spread (but conceded that his abs are not photoshopped).
The Clippers also gave us our first look at new additions Spencer Hawes, who Barnes called the biggest free-agent signing of the summer aside from LeBron James, and Jordan Farmar, who threw a little dig at the his former team, the Lakers, by saying he "valued winning" and thus joined the Clippers. Aussie Joe Ingles spoke of chasing a Euroleague championship and striving to do the same in the NBA, and Chris Douglas-Roberts debuted his short-shorts.
In all, the Clippers look to be very zen about last season's "controversy" and "distractions," and are truly focused on moving forward and striking while the iron is hot. Barnes, ever the motivational speaker, may have put it best.
"This is our prime, and we have to really seize the moment... and take advantage of what we have here — arguably the most talented team from top to bottom in the league, the best coach in the league. It's our time to shine."