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Doc Rivers talks Chris Paul, athlete protests, and more with Jim Rome

Doc Rivers had an eventful off-season. When Chris Paul was traded to the Houston Rockets, the entire identity of the Los Angeles Clippers changed. Head coach Doc Rivers joined The Jim Rome Show Wednesday on CBS Sports Radio and didn’t sugar-coat the impact of losing the nine-time All-Star.

“Chris is a great player and when you lose a great player and they go somewhere else, then either you have a backup guy that can play like him, or you have to change. And there’s nobody in the league that plays like Chris,” Rivers said. “So it would not be smart of us to come out and play the same way. We have to play differently.”

Rivers said the Clippers will move to a more ball-movement offense instead of the isolation attack they deployed with Paul. A system that fit the four-time NBA assists leaders skill-set well. But the change in the roster means the Clippers will open things up this season.

“With Chris we basically put the ball in Chris’s hands a lot, and he was good at—but he needed the ball to play,” Rivers said. “And so we weren’t a good ball movement team. We were a great offense, but we were just not one with movement. So now we still want to be a great offense, but we have to do it with more movement.”

Changes on the court weren’t the only offseason challenge. So was filling the leadership void left behind by Paul, a dynamic that’s still playing out, and wasn’t always optimal to begin with.

“It was really the three guys that were the leaders, and to be frank, I don’t know if that worked anyways,” Rivers said, pointing to returning starters Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. “It felt like at times each guy was trying to lead, or trying to get out of the way of the other, and I never thought that worked to perfection to begin with.

“But maybe this will open it up for Blake to lead a little more, or DJ, or someone else. But if I’ve learned anything in this league, the players will tell you eventually who’s going to lead them on the floor as far as their teammates.”

Rivers also weighed in on the issue of professional athletes calling for social change. Rivers felt strongly that making these protests about the national anthem truly mischaracterizes the issues at hand. “It’s sad in some ways that people are being vilified for exercising their right,” Rivers said. “This whole flag thing and the soldiers is such a bunch of crap. People aren’t protesting the flag. They’re clearly not protesting soldiers. They’re protesting what they feel is wrong with our country and they want to draw attention to it.”

Unlike Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer encouraged his players to exercise their right to free speech and to speak out on issues they believe in. And Rivers feels the same way.

“I think athletes should protest and do things I really do, I encourage it. Because they have a platform where they can draw attention to it and so you should be able to do it,” Rivers explained. “This is isn’t a black issue, this is an American issue. If I’m disappointing in any place, it’s not that the black athletes are doing it, I’m disappointed that more athletes aren’t.”

The 55-year old also urged today’s generation of athletes to continue to study the players before them. He pointed out that a generation before this one, athletes had much more to lose when they spoke out.

“Our athletes today, it’s easier. They are not literally, other than Colin Kaepernick, losing their job,” Rivers said. “We forgot what Muhammad Ali did and Arthur Ashe did. And I think what they really need to study is not only what they did, it’s what they lost by doing it, but yet they were willing to do it. If you think there’s something that you need to stand up for, stand up for it. And then the consequences are what they are.

“Sometimes there are consequences for a protest. You have to be willing to take those consequences if you really want to stand up for something.”