Doc Rivers has seen it all as a head coach in the NBA. Rivers is currently the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers and he is in his fifth season with the club, while it is his 18th overall as a head coach in the NBA. Rivers has one NBA Championship to his credit when he helped the Boston Celtics win it all in 2008. Overall Rivers only has three losing seasons on his resume, while his 836 career victories are 14th all-time in NBA history. But even with all of those accolades that Rivers has throughout his career, the best coaching job that he’s done has come this season with the Clippers.
Last year marked the sixth consecutive trip to the playoffs for the Clippers, but it also marked the end of an era for the franchise. After six seasons with the Clippers, point guard Chris Paul informed the team’s front office that he no longer wanted to be with the team. Paul had grown frustrated with Rivers after the head coach shot down a trade that would have seen the Clippers acquire small forward Carmelo Anthony from the New York Knicks. Rivers’ son Austin is a guard on the Clippers roster, and after the failed trade, the term nepotism was thrown around as the head coach didn’t want to trade his son.
This resulted in the Clippers engaging in sign-and-trade with the Houston Rockets last summer as the disgruntled Paul was dealt. In exchange for Paul, the Clippers received seven players and a first-round pick. But nothing that the Clippers would receive would make up for the loss as he left Los Angeles as the franchise’s all-time leader in assists with 4,023.
One the players that the Clippers received from the Rockets was point guard Patrick Beverly, but he has only appeared in 11 games this season for the team due to a knee injury. Another acquisition that the Clippers made last summer was when they were able to get small forward Danilo Gallinari from the Denver Nuggets. In ten NBA seasons, Gallinari has averaged 15.4 points per game and he was expected to give the Clippers a solid wing player in their offense. However Gallinari has also been slowed down by injuries as he has only appeared in 19 games.
Then there was also the fiasco for the Clippers involving power forward Blake Griffin. After flirting with signing with the Phoenix Suns last summer, Griffin decided to remain with the Clippers. The Clippers and Griffin agreed to a five-year deal for $173 million. The Clippers left no stone unturned in re-signing Griffin as they turned the event into a big spectacle which included a wealth of pomp and circumstance as the franchise wanted the high flying power forward to finish his career in Los Angeles.
However the Clippers shocked the basketball world this past January when traded Griffin to the Detroit Pistons in a six-player deal that saw Los Angeles receive a pair of protected draft picks as part of their compensation. And with Paul and Griffin no longer in Los Angeles, “Lob City” was a thing of the past, but that has not slowed the Clippers down from making an impact on the court.
Through 60 games the Clippers are 32-28 and they are a 1/2-game behind the Nuggets for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Clippers are doing this in spite of the fact that their leading scoring in guard Lou Williams doesn’t start. Williams is averaging 23.2 points coming off of the bench for the Clippers, while the team’s second best player in center DeAndre Jordan is a liability on the offensive end of the floor and he is known solely for his ability to rebound and defend. Jordan is currently averaging 14.9 rebounds per game which is second in the NBA and he is nearly averaging 1 block per contest at .98. The Clippers are getting solid contributions from small forward Tobias Harris who was one of the players that they received from the Pistons in the Griffin trade. In ten games with the Clippers, Harris is averaging 18.7 points and 6.9 rebounds to help shoulder some of the load for the team as they are staying afloat in the playoff race.
To hang around as long as Rivers has as a head coach in the NBA, you have to know how to adjust, motivate your players, and get the most out of them which is something that he has done. After Paul was traded, the Clippers focused more on the team concept as opposed to the individual; especially since they have had to deal with injuries. And after the Griffin trade sent shock waves throughout the NBA, it once again would have been easy for this team to pack up shop, but they haven’t.
Rivers has gotten back to merely focusing on the court this season after a power shakeup in the Clippers front office last summer. Rivers was no longer the Clippers vice president of basketball operations as team owner Steve Ballmer stripped him of this title as it is all about the X’s and O’s for the head coach.
The Clippers are a franchise that is in transition as the Griffin trade freed up salary and put them in a position to offer two max contracts this summer as they are hopeful to entice Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James to head west in free agency. Whomever the Clippers are able to sign this summer won’t be someone that Rivers cannot deal with as he knows how to get players to check their egos at the door. Rivers did this with the Celtics when he got Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett to work together in order to win a championship in 2008. And although that the current Clippers team isn’t loaded with stars, Rivers has gotten everyone to buy what he is selling.
Obviously the Clippers are building for the future, but the job the Rivers has done this season without a ton of talent speaks volumes about his ability, and he definitely deserves some recognition in regards to being the NBA’s Coach of the Year.