In order to do justice to the basic thought of this article we need a quick recap of the Clippers history in L.A. Don’t worry, I promise it will be quick and painless.
The franchise moved up the 5 freeway from San Diego in time for the 1984-85 season. For most of that time through to today they were bad, laughably bad. They were good four times over that span. By “good” I mean they finished above .500 and/or made the playoffs.
- Record: 45-37
- Coach: Three, most prominent was Larry Brown
- Best Player: Danny Manning
- Playoff: Lost WC 1st round
- Record: 41-41
- Coach: Larry Brown
- Best Player: Danny Manning, Mark Jackson
- Playoff: Lost WC 1st round
- Record: 36-46
- Coach: Bill Fitch
- Best Player: Loy Vaught
- Playoff: Lost WC 1st round
- Record: 47-35
- Coach: Mike Dunleavy
- Best Player: Elton Brand
- Playoff: Lost WC Semis
It is not much of an exaggeration to say that in between those times the team was bad. Again, as mentioned above, laughably bad. The tide seemed to change for the team when they were able to pull of an intricate and carefully orchestrated trade for Chris Paul. It’s not like the Association just handed CP3 to them.
Ummm, on we go.
Not surprisingly, the team moved back up to good status with the addition of a premier NBA point guard. In the 2011-12 season they finished with record of 40-26 and made it as far as the Western Conference Semis. That team was coached by Vinnie Del Negro as was the next years iteration which went 56-26 before losing in the 1st round of the Western Conference playoffs.
That is where our story takes an interesting twist. The team was able to bring in Doc Rivers to lead the team starting in the 2013-14 season. Rivers had won an NBA Championship with the Celtics and was brought to L.A. with a plan to help the team sustain greatness and win a Championship.
Sustaining greatness is no easy task in the Association. Even the greatest franchises in the NBA, the Celtics and Lakers, go through down times. The goal when you are good is to stay there as long as you can. The goal when you are bad is to get out before it becomes a habit and an association. The Clippers were bad for so long they were known as losers; they were associated with failure.
It’s hard enough to build a good team in general. It’s that much harder when players on your team refer to the experience as a prison sentence and look forward to getting out. Ron Harper actually made that correlation back in 1994. Doc was brought in to change the mindset and associate the Clippers with winning!
There is little doubt that Rivers met that goal. Since he arrived in Los Angeles the Clippers have averaged 54 wins and made the playoffs each season. For a generation of young basketball fans the Clippers are winners. Mission accomplished.
Winning a championship however has proven to be more elusive.
Rivers is one of only six coaches presently employed as head coaches in the NBA who have led a team to a championship. As such, he has a certain amount of cachet that leaves him not untouchable, but certainly very well protected. However, there are indications that the protection his 2008 NBA championship has afforded him is shrinking.
Before the start of this season owner Steve Ballmer removed Rivers as President of Basketball Operations. Ballmer promoted Lawrence Frank and hired NBA legend Jerry West as a consultant. The hope was that Rivers, no longer burdened with the stress of executive decisions, would be able to concentrate on coaching.
Coaching in the Association is an interesting mix of handling unique personalities, calling the right plays at the right times and effectively managing time and your teams time-outs. Failure to do any of the above can cost you a game. Failure to do any of the above consistently will cost you a career.
What makes an NBA coach so difficult to properly assess is the fact that a team can easily hide a bad coach with great players. Conversely, a team with really bad players can make even the best coach look bad, at least when it comes to the teams final record. In short, you can’t just gauge a coaches impact based on wins and losses. That’s fools gold.
Is Tyronn Lue a good NBA coach? Impossible to tell right now. Should LeBron James and others leave the Cavs after this season we may know better.
So, how do we best measure the quality of a coach? If a coach can do a good job handling personalities, calling the right plays and managing time you will have a team that always plays hard, makes the right plays most of the time and is never left without a time out when one is needed. In short, a team that displays effort, basketball IQ and limits mistakes is led by a good coach.
A great coach can actually make a bad team, or a team suffering through adversity, good.
Gregg Popovich is a great coach. Brad Stevens is making his case by keeping the Celtics at an elite level after losing Gordon Hayward. The distinction between great and good is admittedly suggestive, but is Doc Rivers a great coach? Based on his teams most recent play I would have to say no.
Left with no other responsibilities but to coach this team the group has lost games they shouldn’t of and have looked disjointed at times. Yes, they have lost players. Yes, they have a lot of new faces. Yes, there are excuses.
Which takes us to another quality of a great coach. They don’t make excuses.
If Rivers can lead this team, such as it is, to the All-Star break at or above .500 they can certainly salvage the season. By then they will have Griffin back along with, I would assume, Teodosic and Gallinari. Maybe then they can make a run and inch up the standings as they prepare for the playoffs.
The alternative is the Clippers wallowing well below the break even mark by the ASG and desperately out of contention. Should that be the case then we have our answer in regards to where Rivers falls in the coaching spectrum. In fact, should that be the case we may very well see Rivers in the one category no coach wants to be in.