Earlier this week, we checked up on Paul Pierce’s post-Celtics career. Since then, Pierce’s Wizards team’s season ended after a game 6 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Until today, the last two pieces of that 2008 Championship Celtics team remaining in the playoffs were Doc Rivers and Glen Davis. While Glen Davis has undeniably struggled since joining the Los Angeles Clippers last year, Doc Rivers’ career in LA has been an enigma: equal parts triumphant and disgraceful. He has simultaneously turned the Los Angeles into a legitimate contender for the foreseeable future while prevented them from winning an extremely winnable series against the Houston Rockets. The crux of this dilemma resides in Doc Rivers’ increased responsibilities that were granted to him after becoming the Los Angeles Clippers President.
Doc Rivers transition from television personality to NBA Head Coach proved victorious after he led the 1999-2000 Orlando Magic who many considered a bottom-three team, to a 41-41 record. He earned himself a Coach of the Year Award for his ability to make something out of team that was headlined by Darrell Armstrong (who?). While he would eventually lead the Magic to the playoffs for the next three seasons, his Orlando Magic became first-round fodder each year, leading many to question Doc’s coaching abilities. After an abysmal 1-10 start in the 2003-2004 season, Orlando fired Doc, returning Doc to his broadcasting career. When Danny finally rescued Doc from a destiny akin to Reggie Miller and Chris Webber, Doc was once again met with criticism up until the point they raised banner 17 into the Garden’s rafters.
By 2012, Doc had successfully catapulted himself into the Gregg Popovich stratospheres of un-touchability. Because of the well-documented respect his players had for Rivers, in addition to his creative after-timeout offensive plays, he was universally recognized as a Top-3 coach. Unfortunately for Rivers, through no fault of his own, the Celtics were no longer a top-3 team, and following a first-round exit in the 2013 playoffs, his future was in question. While he was still under contract with the Celtics, it became clear after months of failing to answer whether or not he was returning to the Celtics that his time in Boston had come to a conclusion. It was for Boston fans to understand why Rivers was reluctant to coach a rebuilding Celtics and perhaps it was the silver lining of an unprotected First Round draft pick that softened the blow of Doc’s departure. The opportunity to coach Chris Paul and Blake Griffin as opposed to say, Jordan Crawford and Vitor Faverani, in addition to having full control over player personnel as the Clippers new GM, was simply too good of a package for Celtics fans to feel any kind of resentment for Doc.
Fast forward to May 17, 2015: the day the Clippers became the 9th team in NBA history to blow a 3-1 series lead. Doc Rivers had triumphed over the reigning-champions San Antonio Spurs in the previous round and had all but figured out how to contain MVP-runner up James Harden. Yet, it was the Houston Rockets bench players that proved catalyzed the Clippers epic reversal of fortune. Down 15 with 14 minutes left in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals in Los Angeles, Kevin McHale removed Harden from the game and employed a bench-heavy lineup for the remainder regulation. The Rockets B-squad overcame the massive deficit and surmounted the panicked Los Angeles Clippers by outscoring Chris Paul and company 40-15 in the fourth quarter.
What the Rockets have that the Clippers don’t – isn’t coaching or star power – but a bench that meshes. Doc the GM attempted to emulate fellow Coach/GM Gregg Popovich’s bench model by assembling a bench with skills contradictory to their starting counterparts. For example, at the center position, he grabbed Spencer Hawes – a floor stretching center – to contradict Deandre Jordan’s inability to hit shots from anywhere, especially from the free-throw line. What Doc had failed to anticipate was for the pieces to simply just not fit. Hedo Turkoglu’s skills haven’t been at an NBA level for three years while Jamal Crawford has year-in and year-out proved to be a playoff no-show, failing to shoot over 40% in five straight playoffs (notably posting an abysmal 9.9 PER in this year’s playoffs). It was when Doc Rivers had traded for his son, Austin, that Doc the GM began receiving heavy amounts of criticism. Austin Rivers, who had failed to receive considerable minutes on a short-staffed Hornets team, was on the fast track for Bleacher Reports’ next Top 50 Draft Busts of all time (and still is) when Doc had “saved” him and thus successfully staged the single most gratuitous display of Los Angeles nepotism since the Will Smith/Jaden Smith dumpster fire of a movie entitled After Earth.
While Doc Rivers had diligently navigated the Clippers through the muddy waters of the Donald Sterling Clippers era, he has let Chris Paul and Blake Griffin down by failing to provide them an adequate bench that’s capable of holding onto a lead while they rest. Now Steve Ballmer, who just spent $2 billion on the Clippers last summer, may be in the uncomfortable position of asking Doc to step down from the General Manager role. Chris Paul will once again suffer through another summer of pundits claiming he’s a choker, as he once again failed to make the conference finals; a feat he’s never accomplished in his career. With Deandre Jordan entering free agency, where he’ll inevitably receive a max contract from Doc, the Clippers will now have less money to repair their broken roster. Perhaps Doc will one day look back at his days with the Celtics and think “maybe I had it pretty good”, with Danny Ainge as the GM deflecting the majority of the blame for his team’s shortcomings. When Doc triumphantly played his “get out of Boston Free card”, and thus become the President (coaching and GM duties) of the Los Angeles, he should have known that by upping his powers, he’d also be increasing the media’s ammo against him.
While Doc Rivers will forever have a fan in me, its hard to feel bad for him with this predicament on his hands. He asked for the world, and with that, you inherit the all the world’s problems.