Should Doc Rivers Fire Himself? Oops, Too Late

Two summers ago, when a chagrined Mark Cuban said his team was better off without DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers center, who had agreed to leave Los Angeles for Dallas and then changed his mind, there were skeptics who rolled their eyes. After all, Cuban was trying to save face in an embarrassing moment played out over Twitter and the internet, thanks to the always available and entertaining emoji. Cuban had to say something to divert the damage of what was almost a great Mavericks summer, stealing DeAndre Jordan from the Los Angeles Clippers.

The almost thievery of Jordan by Cuban focused a blaring light on what seems to be a NBA secret about Doc Rivers: his cluelessness. Rivers was stunned at the almost defection of Jordan. Just as he was stunned that Chris Paul left for Houston. Just as he was stunned at the behavior of Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith. Just as he was stunned when Blake Griffin punched a Clippers employee in the face. As a GM, Doc Rivers didn’t have a pulse on what his players were thinking and feeling. In Chris Paul’s case, Rivers never took seriously how the relationship with his star had devolved over time.

No one wanted to say out loud what was obvious. Doc Rivers was a tough and gritty player in his day, a strong leader, a championship coach. But as the Clippers GM, every move he made was low hanging fruit.

Paul Pierce. Wesley Johnson. Lance Stephenson. Spencer Hawes. Glen Davis. Jordan Farmar. Jeff Green. Josh Smith. Alan Anderson. Brandon Bass. Mareese Speights. Raymond Felton. Austin Rivers.

In the 2013 Draft, the Clippers could have drafted Rudy Gobert. Instead, they drafted Reggie Bullock. In 2014, the Clippers could have drafted Jordan Clarkson who Rivers knew as a kid when Rivers was working for the Spurs. Clarkson grew up in San Antonio and was in Rivers backyard. He saw Clarkson play and was familiar with his quick off the dribble game but Rivers refused to draft him. C.J. Wilcox was the Clippers pick.

Doc Rivers first round Clippers pick(s) have played in 216 NBA games, logging 6.6 minutes and scoring 2.6 points. Rivers has never denied his distaste for player development. One reason he left Boston was because they were rebuilding and he wanted a team that could win. Once he got the taste of championship basketball, he couldn’t go back to his Orlando days whereas a 41-41 record was a success.

Rivers will still be involved in decisions as part of the brain trust but he isn’t shepherding talent on his own. Lawrence Frank will do all the heavy lifting. When the Clippers hired Jerry West as a consultant, you knew something big was coming.

This is the first major decision by Clippers owner Steve Ballmer who was considered a neophyte when he bought the Clippers in 2014. Ballmer’s been around the block now. He had his heart broken when the Rockets stormed back from a 1-3 hole and beat the Clippers in a game 7 to advance to the Western Conference Finals, a place the Clippers have never been. Now, he  lost his best player to that same team. It took Ballmer a while to come up to speed, to accept what everyone knows. Rivers gets a failing grade as a GM.

The job of a GM is to acquire talent, develop talent and maintain financial flexibility in order to make unexpected blockbuster deals. Rivers did none of the above.

Ballmer stated the obvious when he said, “It turns out that running a franchise and coaching are two enormous and different jobs. The notion that one person can fairly focus on them and give them all the attention they need isn’t the case. ”

Rivers salary of $10 million won’t change because of the demotion.  Rivers will report to Ballmer who is taking a bigger responsibility in the organization’s future. Rivers is back to square one. A basketball coach focused on life after Chris Paul. The End.




photo via llananba