With Lob City buried so deep into the ground the dirt is turning yellow, Doc Rivers is in a place he hasn’t been since he coached an unremarkable Orlando Magic team to 41-41 (1999-00) and they missed the playoffs on the last day of the season. Rivers has had better teams, better players, he has coached two NBA Finals and plenty of Hall of Famers, but this Coach of the Year job he is doing in Los Angeles is the finest of his career if only because of what he does not have. He does not have Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. His team of lunch pail, defensive minded, gritty not in it for the limelight players have posted a better record than Paul’s Rockets, Jordan’s Mavericks and Griffin’s Pistons.
It is Doc who was pained by the elite stars at the very end of their run, who night after night looked morose, if not worn down. Now he is effervescent, happy, winning and reminding everyone what a great coach he really is.
The Clippers are in second place in the Western Conference with an 11-6 record. They are 3rd in scoring, better than Golden State. They are 3rd in three point percentage, 2nd in field goal percentage defense. They have a 20 ppg scorer, a 19 ppg scorer and a 18 ppg scorer (Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams). The rest of the team are role players that feed off of the Doc system without giving him grief as the Lob City stars did on an hourly basis.
Former Clipper Matt Barnes, who won a ring with the Warriors last year, and who was on the Clippers with Paul, Griffin and Jordan was asked about the most chaotic locker room he had ever been in and it took him a minute to sort through all of his NBA stops but he finally came up with and answer. The Clippers. Not the Lakers, Magic or Kings. Not the Knicks or 76ers or Suns. Not the Grizzlies. But the Clippers. He made it a point to emphasize Paul, Griffin, Jordan were good guys but they had egos and the locker room was never an easy place.
This Doc Rivers group lacks elite stars and so the ego thing isn’t a thing anymore. It’s fresh air for Rivers who can just coach and not worry about the noise. He also doesn’t have to worry about the celebrity. Absent a mega star, he isn’t burdened by the distraction of Hollywood.
The city of Los Angeles has yet to catch on. With a bunch of good guys and well coached likeable workers they are almost invisible. Home attendance is ranked 18th. The last year of Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin (2016-17), home attendance was 10th. But it’s not Rivers job to put butts in the seats. It is his job to win games. That is what he is doing.
On top of everything going Doc’s way, the roster is primed for a free agent next summer and he is demonstrating to Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson that the Clippers have an infrastructure. They made smart moves. They got rid of Griffin when it was apparent he couldn’t lead a team. They swapped in smart players, signed Lou Williams (with his approval) to almost nothing, and drafted well (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander). With Jerry West as a consultant and Doc not in charge of player personnel any longer, you can argue their front office is more stable than their Laker neighbors who are always trying to hit a media home run. The Clippers are keeping their head to the grindstone, practicing fundamentals, and executing Doc ball.
For the first time in a really long time Doc Rivers looks happy. It is a stark contrast to 2016 when the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to the Rockets in the conference semi-finals. Rivers seemed depressed, resigned to his fate.
But the NBA is always fluid, eras leave quick, chapters turn. With the Chris Paul crew in his past, a new baby granddaughter thanks to the Currys (Seth and Doc’s daughter Callie) making him smile and giggle, a team that is performing and listening to Doc philosophy, and games that matter even if the city isn’t really paying attention, Glenn “Doc” Rivers, the gritty fighter from Chicago, is a new man. He would say, a better and different coach too.
The past isn’t changed though. As far as wounds go, Doc has wanted redemption ever since the Lakers broke him in the 2010 NBA Finals. This Clippers team isn’t it, not title contenders, but they should make the playoffs and be a problem for someone.
No matter the championships odds. Doc is Coach of the Year again. His team is reminding the NBA that yes, coaches do matter. There is life after three superstars exit and throw mud on your name. You can have the last word.