LOS ANGELES -- Team chemistry is an inexact science. There's no analytical breakdown of what makes someone a good teammate or a good locker room guy. Like most relationships on and off the court, you just have to jump in and find out the hard way.
In the offseason, the Los Angeles Clippers swung and missed a couple of times with moves and they were forced to admit as much at the halfway point of the season.
The Clippers signed Jordan Farmar to a two-year, $4.2 million contract to be the team's backup point guard and added Chris Douglas-Roberts on a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum to be the backup small forward.
Neither was a good fit. They weren't necessarily problems, but they also weren't the answers the Clippers were looking for. On the court, they didn't provide the stability behind the starters Doc Rivers wanted and when they weren't playing, they didn't do the small things Rivers likes to see from reserves.
While the nucleus of the Clippers this season is the same as it was last season, what has gone largely unnoticed externally is how much they miss the locker room of presence of guys such as Darren Collison, Willie Green, Jared Dudley and Ryan Hollins. Collison, Green and Dudley had been starters before coming to Los Angeles but never complained about their role on the team. They were the first ones to greet their teammates as they came off the court during stoppages and jumped up and down on the sideline after big plays.
When the Clippers last week waived Farmar and traded Douglas-Roberts and Reggie Bullock, it wasn't so much about acquiring Austin Rivers and signing Dahntay Jones to a 10-day contract as it was about improving team chemistry and creating roster flexibility, according to team sources.
"It's huge and you got to keep redoing it," Doc Rivers said when asked about the importance of team chemistry. "You can't be scared to undo it if you think it's not right. I think that's part of our jobs, the coaches and the front office. You're always in search of the perfect locker room. You'll probably never have the perfect one but you can get close to it. You just have got to keep working for it. That's important."
Rivers began to work on it by trading Bullock and Douglas-Roberts in a three-team deal for his son Austin, waiving Farmar and signing Jones to a 10-day contract. Farmar, Douglas-Roberts and Bullock weren't locker room problems but Rivers saw them as expendable as he looked to improve the bench and the locker room at the same time.
"I didn't think it was anything that would blow our locker room up, but I thought we could get better for sure," Rivers said. "And that's what we're doing."
Needless to say, Rivers knows what kind of a locker room presence Austin Rivers will be and had heard what Jones could provide. The fact that both played for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke certainly didn't hurt matters in Doc Rivers' eyes.
"Our sideline and our bench over the last two games has been hilarious, they've been active and very loud," Rivers said. "I think three or four times in the Sacramento game the referees asked them to sit down. Dahntay has been a leader in that."
Jones and Austin Rivers are two of the first players jumping up after a big basket or running over to high-five players walking back to the bench during a timeout. It's not the kind of thing that's going to win games or lead to big contracts, but it doesn't go unnoticed on a championship team.
"That type of energy and enthusiasm is contagious and it's great for a team," Blake Griffin said. "That's one thing when I watch games and film that's one thing you kind of see and kind of notice. You see guys up, you see guys cheering and you see guys into it and when we come off the floor we want to be doing the same thing. I just think it's good for team chemistry, knowing that everybody has your back and is cheering for you."
Doc Rivers will also look to build upon that new spirit and chemistry as the Clippers have two roster openings and may have a third depending on what they do with Jones' 10-day contract. Last season, Rivers was able to sign Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Danny Granger during the buyout seasons, and he expects to sign two veterans again next month. That was a big reason he made the moves that he did to free up the necessary room on a roster that was at the maximum 15 players earlier this month.
"This is a tight-knit group but building chemistry takes time," Davis said. "We have to go through some struggles, like really, real struggles and overcome them and then we can get to where we want to go."