With Clippers’ remarkable rebuild, Doc finally proved himself


May 17, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Josh Smith (5) reacts after making a basket during the third quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers in game seven of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

As the Los Angeles Clippers’ head coach and president of basketball operations, Doc Rivers has made some questionable decisions. Although, after their remarkable rebuild this offseason, Doc finally proved himself. And with the final addition of power forward Josh Smith, everything seems to have fallen into place for a shot at a championship.

After Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens failed as successful backups for Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in 2013, and Spencer Hawes was signed instead of pursuing Paul Pierce instead last year, there have certainly been some moves that haven’t worked out in Doc Rivers’ reign with the Clippers. The faith he’s shown in his son Austin Rivers has also largely been described as an emotional rather than objective decision in the past as well.

Although, after the host of moves made by the Clippers this offseason, fans are more than justified to look forward to the prospect of their team having a realistic shot at the Western Conference Finals this year.

Ideally, he needed an entirely new bench. As one of the main reasons the Clippers blew their 3-1 series lead against the Houston Rockets was due to lacking depth and any kind of mental toughness. Yet, by entering free agency with no cap space, the Clippers’ scrutinized president had virtually nothing to work with.

Doc didn’t wait around to act, though. Because just days after the season came to a close, he ditched the detrimental center Spencer Hawes to bring in new talent with far more potential: Lance Stephenson.

Mar 8, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson (1) reacts to a basket in the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Charlotte won 108-101. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In order to land the former league-leader in triple doubles (he recorded five in 2013-14), Matt Barnes and Hawes were used to acquire Stephenson in a trade with the Charlotte Hornets. And whilst they may have lost their tenacious, gritty defender in Barnes, they’ve added a player with greater potential who’s 11 years younger.

Stephenson’s time in Charlotte was a disaster, plain and simple. That can’t be denied. His field goal percentage fell by 12 from his final year with the Indiana Pacers and his three point percentage plummeted by 18 percent. It’s the kind of year-long slump that can’t just be overlooked. However, his ball handling, ability to attack the basket, passing and rebounding (even if he’s somewhat greedy) haven’t just disappeared.

In L.A., Stephenson won’t need to be the go-to-guy he was meant to be in Charlotte. He may headline the second unit backcourt, but that’s the extent of his responsibility. And if he can rediscover his playmaking and triple double threat form from his Pacers’ days, the Clippers have added some skill to their previously timid bench.

To replace Barnes as starting small forward, Doc Rivers addressed another major flaw of his team: mental toughness and veteran leadership. In order to deal with those issues, some Truth is exactly what the Clippers need.

Paul Pierce still has the faith and accuracy in his shot to close out games, and after playing under Doc for nine years, they have the perfect chemistry to lead this Clippers team deep into the playoffs. They won a title together in 2007-08 with the Boston Celtics, and the kind of swagger and championship know-how that Pierce has is exactly what the Clippers have been lacking.

Chris Paul may be a passionate and fiery leader, but Pierce brings even more experience and late-game ability.

May 9, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) celebrates with Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) after making the game-winning basket against the Atlanta Hawks as time expired in the fourth quarter in game three of the second round of the NBA Playoffs. at Verizon Center. The Wizards won 103-101. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Even the addition of Wesley Johnson makes sense. He can operate as a three-and-D player (similarly to what Barnes did this season) and he adds far more athleticism in transition. Not to mention, the fact that he’s seven years younger than Barnes gives the Clippers more long term options at small forward.

And when moving to their frontcourt, Doc has also added a backup center who can offer the kind of interior defensive presence that Spencer Hawes never could: Cole Aldrich.

The former New York Knick averaged 12.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes this year, which, when you consider Hawes’ apparent inability to defend now (and per 36 averages of only 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks) Doc has found a definite defensive upgrade.

It wasn’t just in free agency where Doc took decisive and successful action either. In the NBA draft, the Clippers acquired the rights to the 56th pick to land power forward and defensive specialist Branden Dawson from Michigan State. Who, despite being just 6’7″, used his elite athleticism to lead the Big Ten Conference in rebounds per game (9.1), total offensive rebounds (102) and defensive rating (91.1) this year).

The best part about this move by Doc, though? L.A. brought the pick from the New Orleans Pelicans for only $600,000.

They landed a new defensive energizer to bolster their 15th ranked defense, and for far less than if they signed a free agent to a veterans’ minimum deal of around $1.5 million. So, not only did Doc draft the kind of tough defender they need, but he did so for almost nothing and saved a million dollars. All whilst not even having a pick to begin with.

Apr 13, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers talks with center DeAndre Jordan (6) in the second half of the game against the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center. Clippers won 110-103. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Whilst these acquisitions are all important in turning around the Clippers, there have been two developments that have finally shown Doc Rivers means business.

The DeAndre Jordan saga will be remembered as one of the craziest days in free agency history for years to come. The rumors of him potentially leaving before free agency began were worrying enough for Clipper Nation, simply because as a two-time league leading rebounder and an All-Defensive first team player, he was far too important to let go.

And as the Clippers’ struggled enough defensively this year, the departure of DeAndre could have left them stranded at the depths of the Western Conference.

Then the news broke that Jordan had decided to leave for the Dallas Mavericks. All hoped seemed lost. All the Clippers’ other signings seemed pointless. Then Doc Rivers took it upon himself to go to DeAndre’s house in Houston with Paul and Griffin, hold their star center hostage and persuade him to stay where he belongs in Los Angeles.

It may have been desperate, it may have been like something out of a movie, but that’s not important. It worked, and Doc brought back his defensive anchor when it was almost certain that he’d be leaving.

If you thought Doc needed to go the extra mile this offseason, he certainly did by creating one of the most remarkable turn-of-events we’ve seen in free agency history.

May 12, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Josh Smith (5) celebrates his three point shot against the Los Angeles Clippers in the second half in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Rockets won 124 to 103. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Now, after signing Josh Smith on a $1.5 million one-year contract to serve as Griffin’s new backup, the Clippers have added the final piece to their championship caliber rotation. He’s athletic, he can break out in transition, he improved his shooting in Houston and he can make an impact at both ends of the floor — which are all things Glen Davis failed to do this year.

Smith’s arrival gives the Clippers the final backup they need, and the minimal price just makes the taste of their success even sweeter.

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They may have added vital depth across the board, but with the the Golden State Warriors still intact after being crowned champions this year, the Oklahoma City Thunder now approaching full health, and the San Antonio Spurs signing LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, the Clippers’ road out the West is beyond difficult.

However, Doc Rivers has now assembled the kind of complete roster that doesn’t solely lean on the talent of three stars anymore. Champions rely on their entire team, and that’s what he’s finally put together.

This year, Doc needed to step up as president more than ever. And unlike ever before, that’s exactly what he did. With all the odds stacked against him, both financial and personnel wise, Doc has turned his Clippers around from a franchise on the verge of collapse to a championship contender.

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