BOSTON – Two summers ago, Doc Rivers left the daunting prospect of a second rebuild in Boston for the allure of a championship core and more power with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Rivers admirably held his new franchise together in the midst of the Donald Sterling racist voicemail scandal last year, and was rewarded by new owner Steve Ballmer last offseason with a $50 million dollar deal.
With all the money, talent, power, and sunshine any coach/executive in the NBA could hope for, Rivers seemingly had everything he needed on the west coast. However, Doc’s honeymoon period ended abruptly earlier this week after Rivers watched his Clippers blow a 3-1 series lead against the Houston Rockets to bow out in the second-round for the second straight year.
Doc made a bit of NBA history with the defeat, as he became just the first coach in league history to surrender a 3-1 series lead twice, the first coming in his days with the Orlando Magic back in 2003.
That Magic team was a No. 8 seed led by Tracy McGrady and a bunch of role players, making the collapse against the top-seed Pistons understandable. 12 years later, Doc has no one to blame but himself for his team’s choke job.
A 19-point blown second half lead at home in Game 6 will be the most memorable letdown, but it wasn’t Doc the coach who should be blamed for his team’s pitfalls. Instead, it was Doc the GM that made his talented team undermanned and exhausted, leaving them unable to finish off an athletic Rockets team.
With a starting five of Chris Paul-J.J. Redick-Matt Barnes-Blake Griffin-DeAndre Jordan, the case could be made that the Clippers had the most talented starting lineup in the league. Jamal Crawford is a capable sharpshooting sixth man who came off the bench, but behind him? Rivers compiled one of the worst bench units in recent history.
Here’s a quick summary of the moves that led to his downfall:
-Trading role player Jared Dudley to Milwaukee Bucks last summer with a future first-round pick in order to clear modest salary cap room ($4 million)
-Signing center Spencer Hawes to a four-year contract for the full mid-level exception, instead of using that money on a proven veteran (i.e. Paul Pierce). Hawes barely played through the entire postseason, giving Rivers limited big man depth off the bench.
-Signing point guard Jordan Farmar to the base-annual exception ($2 million+) and waiving him halfway through the regular season, further limiting his salary cap maneuverability.
-Trading a second-round pick and a former first-round pick (Reggie Bullock) in order to acquire his son Austin Rivers to replace Farmar.
-Filling out the remainder of the roster with players that peaked during Doc’s days with the Celtics (Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu, Dhantay Jones, Lester Hudson).
The net result was a bench group that Rivers couldn’t depend on as the postseason progressed. Crawford was the only player that averaged more than 18 minutes a game on that unit, forcing Paul, Redick, and Griffin to all play more than 37 minutes per contest. In the end, the Clippers stars did not have the legs to handle Houston’s depth.
All of Doc’s questionable moves did not just hurt his team for this season either. He has painted the franchise into a corner this offseason. There is no salary cap room awaiting him. No first-round picks in two of the next three seasons (Boston owns the team’s pick this year). No attractive trade chips beyond the team’s starting lineup. The cupboard is bare unless a star is being dealt.
The current situation should lead Rivers to do some evaluating of his own performance this offseason. Being a coach or GM in the NBA is hard enough on its own. Only a few can perform both tasks well, and Doc doesn’t appear to be cut out for it.
Will he make life easier for himself next season by giving up some control in the front office? It’s too early to tell, but doing so would make his coaching life a heck of a lot easier in the midst of loaded Western Conference moving forward.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.