Doc Rivers has just ended his 18th year as an NBA head coach, his third year as the President of Basketball Operations for the Clippers, and his 31st year of NBA service. ( In a 13 year career, he played in 81 playoff games). Rivers has coached in 161 playoff games, 26 playoff series, winning 51.2% of them. Although he has had his share of disappointing finishes, his teams have never been swept in a series. But on the other hand, he has only swept one opponent (Knicks, 2011). And think about this. Each team he has coached had a commanding lead and then blew it. As coach of Orlando, he was up 3-1 on the Detroit Pistons in 2003 and lost the series. He was up 3-2 against the Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals and lost the series in 7 games, a bitter Celtics loss. He was up 3-1 against the Houston Rockets in 2015 and lost in game 7, one more Clippers moment of disaster. He was up 2-1 against the Utah Jazz and lost. So yes, the Doc Rivers rule is in effect: you can win a NBA title as a coach and still have your heart repeatedly broken. But is that heartbreak your fault?
The Clippers made history. The first time in the NBA a team has led in a series and lost the series five years in a row. Rivers is responsible for 4 of those 5 years and that depressing history.
Is it Rivers the coach? Or Rivers the GM? Who to point the figure at?
As the President of Basketball Operations, he has made a lot of below mediocre moves. He signed Spencer Hawes as a free agent. That was a disaster (5.8 points, 3.5 rebounds). He signed Jordan Farmar as a free agent. Farmar was waived and had some not nice things to level at Rivers after the fact. He signed Glen Davis. Davis was serviceable until he wasn’t. He acquired Jared Dudley. When Dudley left L.A. he threw shade at Doc too.
Doc let go of first round talent Eric Bledsoe who signed a max deal with Phoenix. He signed Hedo Turkoglu, a mistake. He drafted C.J. Wilcox in the first round in 2014. Wilcox had a D-league career and now he is with Orlando.
Doc didn’t want to acquire his son Austin but gave in, and Austin has been his second best free agent acquisition. He brought in Jeff Green. Jeff Green is Jeff Green so it was a zero sum game. He signed Wesley Johnson. With Johnson it is always less is less. So athletic, so looking like a NBA player who is going to beat you off the dribble and embarrass you at the rim but he does none of those things.
Luc Mbah a Moute brought defense. Not a bad pick up but he lacks versatility. Lance Stephenson was a train wreck. Josh Smith was a joke who either did or did not almost come to blows with Doc, depending on who you believe. Branden Dawson repeated the C.J. Wilcox fate. He was drafted by the Clippers in 2015 and cut a year later. Now he is in Orlando.
Cole Aldrich was a good pick up and helped when Blake Griffin went postal but the Clippers couldn’t afford to keep him. Pablo Prigioni was smart but slow and cheap. Paul Piece shot 31% and was old man walking in year one. Of course, Doc the GM gave him a three year deal that Pierce has cut short (thankfully) because of retirement. J.J. Redick has been the best acquisition of the Doc Rivers Clippers tenure. Jamal Crawford was signed to a three year deal at the age of 35. It never ends with Doc, his love of old players who are a shell of themselves.
In the draft, he passed on Nikola Jokic (Nuggets), Jordan Clarkson (Lakers), Ivica Zubic (Lakers) and Malcolm Brogdon (Bucks), all second round picks who have demonstrated their ability to compete in the NBA.
His fourth season in Los Angeles has ended. So much was at stake for Doc. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin may opt out, will probably opt out, though it’s a long shot they will go anywhere as long as Doc is running things and that is what many see is the main Clippers problem: Doc is running things.
This past off-season he tried to shore up his bench with Raymond Felton and Marreese Speights. Felton was serviceable but Speights was a disaster in the playoffs.
A little less than a year ago, Doc talked about the challenge of the job during an informative and insightful coaches roundtable on the NBAtv show Open Court. He correctly pointed out that the team and the franchise have two separate goals. The team wants to win. The franchise wants to develop talent for the future. But you can’t win and develop talent at the same time.
This is the Doc Rivers dilemma. He needs youth. He needs young talent behind Chris Paul (if he returns). He needs young rebounders to play behind Blake Griffin. But Doc wants to win. Winning is contagious. Once you taste it, you crave it; it is a drug. And so Doc bypasses on young talent and goes with veterans but the veterans he can afford (see Ray Felton and Marreese Speights) are way over the past my prime hill.
So is it really Doc Rivers fault? He doesn’t have a lot of money to spend. And he spends it the best way he can. But…
There is no Clippers future. There isn’t talent waiting in the wings. Once the Chris Paul era is over the Clippers will be over. The Clippers like to arrogantly boast they are not like the Lakers but they are exactly like the Lakers. Invest everything in right now and then have an empty cupboard.
The Clippers will win 50 games if the crew returns. They always do. They will march into the playoffs. But it gets dicey after that. Count on an injury or the curse. It is always…something. And then it will be as it usually is, the Clippers and Doc Rivers having to explain what happened with that aggrieved look on their faces.
photo via llananba