Is Doc Rivers what the Clippers need?
The recent squabble involving Blake Griffin fighting a staff member of the Los Angeles Clippers adds to the list of troubles faced by the Clippers in recent months. This started with the soap opera drama involving DeAndre Jordan in the offseason, and led to some untimely injuries by some Clippers’ players (including Blake who was already injured when striking the staff member). When people criticize the Clippers, people often direct their hate to the Clippers players. Should the Clippers trade Blake? Was it really worth it to almost force DeAndre back to the team? Does Chris Paul have what it takes to succeed in the postseason? All of these questions often leave out one of the key components of the team, their head coach, Doc Rivers.
I want to make it clear that I really like Doc Rivers as a coach in the NBA, particularly when you consider the general lack of depth in this area of the league. I think its clear that Doc is one of the ten best coaches in the league but, I would make the argument, that perhaps he is not the best coach for the team he is currently with. Specifically speaking, I’m not entirely sure that Doc Rivers is the best type of head coach for a “young” group of players like the Clippers.
Following the incident with Blake, Doc came out and evoked a comparison between Blake and former president Richard Nixon, claiming that if we can forgive Nixon, then we can forgive Blake for what he did. Umm, Ok… I’m not entirely sure if the analogy applies but let’s go with it. It seems as if Doc is not necessarily giving Blake a pass, but he is forgiving him and moving past the situation. Diplomatic for sure, but this response was one of the first things Doc said following the release of the Blake story. How are you going to punish Blake? What type of accountability are you going to hold him to? None of these questions were answered.
Looking back at the coaching career of Doc Rivers, his most successful time was when he was with the Boston Celtics. Reaching two Finals and winning one, there was a point in which many argued that Doc was the best coach in the league. His team, however, was composed largely of veteran players, particularly at its core. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were all hungry veterans who, not only knew how to hold themselves accountable, but knew how to mentor the younger and more braggadocios players on the team (I’m looking at you Rondo). It can be argued that Doc had to do very little to keep the team in line, as the team was maintained by the veteran leadership on the roster.
Since arriving in Los Angeles, the most reputable veteran player on the team for Doc Rivers has been Chris Paul, a player known for butting heads with his teammates at times. For years, the Clippers have been labeled as underachievers, a team filled with talent that seems to turn it off when the lights are brightest. This, combined with the off-the-court drama that has plagued the team, suggests that there is an issue with the “culture” in Los Angeles. If Doc is fostering an environment in which players aren’t held accountable for their actions, the Clippers are doomed to be a disappointment until they can find a coach who can change this trend.
Kyle Kirby covers the NBA for MFST. You can follow him on Twitter @couch_qb.