Any talk surrounding the prospects of the current incarnation of the Los Angeles Clippers leans toward denigrating the work of ex-Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro; a man that led Los Angeles to its best record yet in 2012-13. VDN’s team won 56 games last season, a strange year that saw Chris Paul working in the months leading up to his free agent turn, and yet the squad fell in the first round to a Memphis Grizzlies team that seemed to be in the midst of an on-the-fly rebuilding job.
Enter … Doc Rivers?
(And not in exchange for an unprotected first round pick in the 2015 NBA draft, we swear, signed – Los Angeles, Boston, and the NBA league office.)
Doc wanted no part of coaching a rebuilding effort in Boston, something that he eagerly signed up to coach a year and a half ago, though we understand his hesitation. Rivers’ job will be to try and make sense of a team that seems to be flowing in two different directions – with the Funny Or Die-approved machinations of the goofball Blake Griffin/DeAndre Jordan crew pairing with the ultra-serious floor-bound work of franchise player Chris Paul.
What’s oddest about the pairing is the fact that it appeared to work so darn well last year.
The Clippers always seemed like they could do more, sandwiching a 17-game winning streak around a 39-26 run that failed them in the first round against a Memphis Grizzlies team that lost to Los Angeles in the playoffs a year before. Los Angeles drew up a top-10 defense alongside its fourth-ranked offense, finishing ninth in pace despite Paul’s inclination to walk the ball up the floor at every given opportunity. It appears that the team seemed to work reasonably well under Del Negro’s guidance, in 2012-13, right?
A 56-win turn, even pitched in the face of a respected team like the Memphis Grizzlies, should not result in a first round ouster. And Del Negro’s four combined seasons in Chicago and Los Angeles remain less than respected, throughout the league. Especially while considering his borderline-dismissal of backup guard Eric Bledsoe, a player that absolutely dominated the Grizzlies during the 2012 playoffs, while racking up single-digit minutes during his team’s final game of the season.
This is where Doc, seemingly apprised of the situation at hand, fits in. This is also where Doc, who has precious little success when it comes to doing great things without Basketball Hall of Famers at his side, has a lot to prove.
Rivers did fine work in his first season as Orlando Magic coach, leading a team that was designed to lose to nearly making the playoffs in 1999-00. Rivers never managed to work those Magic out of the first round of the playoffs following that Coach of the Year-winning turn, and had little success in Boston until general manager Danny Ainge fit Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen alongside Paul Pierce in Boston.
This isn’t to say that Rivers isn’t amongst the NBA’s best coaches. He is, and he’s well worth the three-year, $21 million contract that he and the Clippers agreed to. Our man will have plenty to prove, though, coming off of a first round exit, and leaving behind a Boston Celtics team that hasn’t ranked amongst the top half in offensive efficiency since the 2008-09 season.
What remains to be seen is the continued machinations between the Clippers and Celtics, and whether or not the NBA will allow the two teams to engage in trade talks that – to be blunt – are completely legal and well-intentioned. The Boston Celtics want to rebuild, and would like appropriate returning gifts for letting Rivers out of his contract, while approving Kevin Garnett’s waive of his no-trade clause, and subsequent dealing. These are heady moves that the Clippers seem both legal and rightful in matching – a few first round picks, alongside the return of (potentially) DeAndre Jordan and/or Eric Bledsoe.
For some reason, the NBA (which seems arbitrary in its approach, yet again) doesn’t like the image of letting two teams get what they (legally) want because Rivers is involved. Odd, considering that the league put its entire season on hold for two months in 2011-12 while letting 30 out of 30 team owners get exactly what they wanted in exchange for taking paychecks away from thousands.
For now, before the potential deals hit, Rivers (who played for Los Angeles in 1991-92) is a Clipper yet again. He’ll bring gravitas, a great coaching staff, and a championship ring to that particular table.
Can he bring Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, 60 wins, three or four rounds, and Chris Paul back? One step at a time, I suppose.