The LA Clippers assembled one of the deepest rosters in the NBA and Doc Rivers believes it is built for the bubble after having already been tested by the unforeseen unpredictability of the NBA’s restart during the coronavirus pandemic and players dealing with personal issues.
The Clippers were without five of their top 10 players last week after Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams all left the Orlando campus in the span of seven days due to excused family emergencies. Ivica Zubac and Landry Shamet didn’t arrive to the Walt Disney World resort until last Saturday after both tested positive for coronavirus and quarantined at home.
The Clippers open the restart against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday when they will be without Williams, who is in quarantine, and Harrell, whose timetable for a return remains uncertain.
“Yeah, well, a deep roster is built for that,” Rivers said. “And we’ve done that. Now, when you have five and six guys out at one time, that’s asking too much on any roster. By the time the [seeding] games start, we won’t have that many out, but we’ll have maybe two to three key guys out, and that’s asking a lot.
“Having said that, that doesn’t stop us from believing we’re going to win every game. We have great confidence.”
Williams returned to the bubble on Saturday but the NBA ruled the Sixth Man of the Year had to quarantine for 10 days after he visited an Atlanta gentlemen’s club to eat dinner while he was out of the bubble. The Clippers will be without Williams for at least two games. Harrell will have to quarantine for at least four days when he returns. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Beverley returned to the team on Sunday and Rivers said his starting point guard is a possibility to play on Thursday, emphasizing the word “maybe.”
Without their two leading candidates for this year’s Sixth Man of the Year award, the Clippers will have to rely on their depth against the Lakers and possibly on Saturday against New Orleans.
“I mean, I knew that we had a pretty deep squad,” Kawhi Leonard said of the Clippers, who had their full roster available for only 11 games this season due to injuries. “I knew how talented we could be. It’s about executing now.”
Rivers has said the NBA knew it could get the season started again in Orlando. The question is the ability to finish the season given the surge in coronavirus around the country and in Florida and more potential life situations popping up that could lead to players having to leave the bubble. While other teams like the Denver Nuggets had to wait until only recently to get almost half of their team to Orlando and available, the Clippers are the first team to have to navigate players stuck in quarantine due to coronavirus positive tests and three key players leaving in a short period of time and having to deal with the ensuing quarantine required upon their return.
President of basketball operations Lawrence Frank and general manager Michael Winger built a deep roster highlighted by last summer’s blockbuster additions of Leonard and Paul George. Frank and Winger traded for Marcus Morris Sr., the biggest trade target at the deadline, and signed Reggie Jackson after the point guard worked a buyout with the Detroit Pistons. Both veterans sacrificed potentially bigger roles elsewhere.
Frank also signed former Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah to a 10-day contract prior to the season being suspended in March before agreeing to terms for the remainder of the season.
When Zubac was still in quarantine and JaMychal Green and Morris both arrived late to Orlando due to family reasons, Noah started some scrimmages at center. Jackson also started scrimmages in Beverley’s absence. “I do think it’s built for the bubble,” Winger said of the Clippers’ roster. “But the bubble is just an extension of uncertainty, unpredictability and the potential loss of player capabilities, whether short term or long term.”
Rivers has said that all teams have always dealt with players having to miss a practice or game due to personal reasons. But now with teams inside the NBA bubble, any player exiting due to family issues puts a team in a bind due to the quarantine process upon return.
“I think it’s affected us because of what’s happened,” Rivers said. “You know, human life is happening, and we’ve had a lot of things that have happened… Guys have the virus, guys have family stuff, and so you have all of this what I call clutter in your lives, and it’s part of life. So we’ve had to deal with that.
“But adversity is not all bad. You’re going to go through hard stuff, and if it’s at the beginning, then let’s do it now.”