Clippers’ Doc Rivers turned treasure into trash

Wai Sallas

With the news of Chris Paul’s trade to the Houston Rockets, the liquidation of a once championship caliber franchise has begun. Paul and the Clippers have nothing to show for the best six years in the franchise’s history. And it’s all Doc Rivers’ fault.

In a league where building a prolonged title contender can be almost impossible, Los Angles Clippers Head Coach and President of Basketball Operations, Doc Rivers has done something even more unimaginable. He, in his role as president of basketball ops has done the exact opposite.

Three days after the NBA lockout ended in 2011, many Clippers players stood outside their practice facility on their cell phones. Each player doing their best to confirm reports that had been trickling through NBA gossip wires. The best point guard in the NBA was supposedly coming to the one of the most downtrodden franchises in NBA history. Big men Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan couldn’t hide their giddiness with Griffin coining the term “Lob City.”

That first year, the Clippers’ win percentage jumped from .390 to .606. Los Angeles was back in the playoffs and the future was littered with gold. LA made another leap the next year, winning 56 games and the Pacific Division. The improvement did not translate into the playoffs, which would become a common refrain. Head Coach Vinnie Del Negro was let go and Donald Sterling and company bet the farm on former Coach of the Year, Doc Rivers.

Like is the case with some head coaches who achieve success, the thirst for power will lead many to take on more than they can chew. Rivers became head coach and president of basketball ops with a roster with young tradeable assets, two bonafide stars, up-and-coming talent, and veteran role players. It was the perfect mixture to take the next leap into the post season. Keep in mind, while Miami was dominating the East, clinching three straight appearances in the NBA Finals, the West was wide open. Four different franchises had represented the West in the previous four NBA Finals. Golden State was still a franchise searching for its identity with young talent, lacking confidence and a vision. There was no super team.

Rivers’ first move as head of player personnel started the long and arduous process of destroying a franchise before it could even reach its full potential.

In the summer of 2013, dangling one of the most promising guards in the NBA as trade bait, Rivers made the wing position his primary target. Despite needing depth in the front court, he decided to pull a David Kahn. Bledsoe, Caron Butler and a second round draft pick were dealt for JJ Reddick and Jared Dudley. With one of the most desired assets in the NBA, combined with a solid veteran role player, he got two players whose game was almost exactly the same.  To round out Rivers’ first off-season, he tried to address Los Angeles’ front court depth by signing Byron Mullens, a center who had trouble cracking the starting line up of 21-win Charlotte.  Mullens would not even last the season in LA, and Dudley’s role diminished as the season progressed to the point that he barely played in the post season.

Despite Rivers’ best attempts to derail the franchise in his first year, the chemistry between Paul and LA’s big men produced must-see TV highlights. Once again, results remained unchanged in the postseason with Los Angeles losing in the second round to Oklahoma City. Los Angeles’ win record improved by one game in 2013-14. It would be the last time the Clippers record would reflect improvement.

Rivers once again went back into the offseason hoping to commit more arson.

Still needing depth in the front court, Rivers tied his cart to Spencer Hawes as his big free agent signing. Not to outdo himself, he then traded Jared Dudley and a FIRST ROUND PICK for Carlos Delfino, Miroslav Raduljica and a second round pick. Delfino and Raduljica were gone three days later. To connect the dots, in two seasons Rivers traded Bledsoe, Jared Dudley, Caron Butler, a first and second round pick for JJ effing Reddick!

Rivers complete ineptitude as a front office exec obviously bled on to the court. His now superstar trio of Griffin, Jordan and Paul averaged more than 34 minutes per game, all ranking in the top 25 for usage. When the Clippers defeated the Spurs in seven games in arguably the best first r0und series in NBA history, and held a 3-1 lead against the Rockets, it looked like they’d finally get over the hump. In the most Clippery, Clipper fashion, the wheels fell off and a team with no depth ran out of gas and completely self-destructed. To add insult to incompetence, LA gave up a 20-point lead in an elimination game before free-falling and losing in seven games.

This would prove to be Los Angeles’ last true chance to compete for a title. Golden State would win 73-games in 2015-16. Rivers’ Clippers have lost 10 straight to the NBA champions. The final nail in the coffin would come in much the same way it all started six years ago.

Rivers though, was not done yet. In his most egregious act, his first offseason signing this past year was his son, Austin. While top teams were wooing the best of the free agent pool, the Clippers were giving big money to a player who few teams wanted. The former lottery pick was on his way out of the league before his dad threw him a life raft and brought him to LA. Then to make matters worse, a deal to send Carmelo Anthony to the Clippers this past season was nixed because Rivers reportedly did not want to trade his son. Too add to that, the head coach-player/father-son relationship was one of the primary reasons Paul chose to leave.

Paul is now headed to Houston to no doubt make another team better. Rivers, in the only way he knows how, lost another trade. The Clippers will receive a cornucopia of garbage in return. Since Paul was acquired six years ago, only two teams have had a better record in basketball. As Neil Payne of fivethirtyeight details, no team has done less with more than this walking dumpster fire.

A month ago, I wrote of hope with Jerry West’s impending arrival. One could only dream West would help Rivers help himself, and take his signing hand away from free agent contracts. Now we know it’s too late.

Griffin is an unrestricted free agent. The Clippers have no young talent to groom, nor draft picks to rebuild. While other teams in the West are either getting better or building teams for the future, the Clippers are doing neither. The one silver lining is this move will clear up $70 million in cap space for the summer of 2018. LeBron James has already (allegedly) said he’ll never go to the Clippers. Despite owner Steve Ballmer’s best attempts, the Clippers name around the league is a steaming pile of feces. No rebranding or Chuck the Condor can help. Hopefully West and the Clippers will use that money wisely. Is home fire insurance an option?

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