PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- A year ago at media day, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers set the franchise's preseason talking points with the polish and discipline of an electoral candidate.
From that point forward, young center DeAndre Jordan would join Chris Paul and Blake Griffin as a member of the team's big three. Griffin would have the full confidence of his coach to assume his place as the best power/finesse big man in the game. The team would implement a brand of defense that won a championship in Boston and fashioned new trends on whiteboards across the NBA.
Above all, the team would instill a new kind of process whereby players would take their work seriously but nobody would sweat the small stuff. Sounds basic, but for Griffin and Jordan in particular, it was a new mindset.
The mood and message Monday at the Clippers' training facility was decidedly less punchy. The fog of spring, when the Donald Sterling scandal seeped into every media availability and every examination of the team's on-court performance, had lifted. Rivers' process remains front and center, but as Paul explained on the dais, what was once novel is now routine.
"I think last year as a team, we sort of learned what the process was," Paul said. "This year as a team, we have to fall in love with the process."
To the extent that there was a common theme present Monday, Paul was echoing his coach's appraisal of the agenda: There's a calm that comes with implementing familiar sets, understanding tendencies and knowing where the tripwires are on the floor and in the locker room.
The 6-foot Paul was the straight guy in the comedy sketch when he was razzed by giants Griffin and Jordan because the point guard's feet couldn't reach the ground from his tall chair, which, unlike Griffin's, didn't sport a built-in footstool. For his part, Griffin got some from J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes for his sick abdominals in a recent issue of GQ, abs Redick insists were slathered in oil for the shoot. Stories of Jamal Crawford's midnight bachelor-party pickup game and Barnes' exploits in the yoga studio with Los Angeles' 45- to 60-year-old female demographic added to the levity.
One of the only mentions of Sterling was a nonmention by Rivers. Asked about his new long-term deal with the Clippers (estimated at five years, $50 million), Rivers explained that there were reasons his initial commitment to the franchise was only for three years. The implication was clear: Sketchy Clippers ownership was the issue, but that's no longer relevant. When Paul was asked if there were any operational changes after the transition in ownership, he looked bemused. "We play basketball," he said.
The transcripts of the day's Q-and-A's will include far more references to the team's disastrous Game 5 loss at Oklahoma City in the conference semifinals. Just as Rivers declined to state the reason he held off on buying in long term to the Clippers, Paul didn't volunteer why the Clippers collapsed in the final minutes of the season's pivotal game. Everyone knows about Paul's miscues down the stretch, and nobody feels worse about it than him. In just about every respect Monday, the ghosts of Game 5 were far more haunting than any remnant of Sterling.
If you believe that continuity is a measure of viability, then the Clippers are now one of those teams whose stability can guide them forward. The facility on Monday had that new owner smell, and basketball junkie Steve Ballmer figures to be dug in. As one in an exclusive group of power brokers in the league who control both on-court and managerial decisions, Rivers is in Los Angeles for the long haul. The team has Paul and Griffin locked up through the summer of 2017. Redick too. Though Jordan enters the final year of his contract, the Clippers can outbid any potential suitor and now have an owner who is unlikely to balk at a tax bill.
Paul, Griffin and Jordan are temperamentally different, but all are staunch creatures of routine. Paul is the league's best planner. Griffin's preparation is a series of disciplined rituals. Jordan might not be predisposed to routine as a matter of course, but in his first season under Rivers, he saw what order can do for a big guy's game. He loves being alongside Paul and Griffin in the first group up on the stage and seems committed to any plan that keeps him there.
As the Clippers left the facility to catch a flight to Las Vegas, where they will take part in training camp until the end of the week, they are a more contemplative team than they were one year ago, when the to-do list was far too long to breathe deeply, however much calm Rivers projected. This year for the Clippers, calm is the new hype.