Can Doc Rivers save the Clippers from himself?


If it’s not one thing it’s another with Doc Rivers.

A man of dual roles, head coach and team president, in a brief tenure with the Clippers he continues to find ways to hinder the team. Early on, Rivers failed to surround his superstars and star center with a capable bench, relying on players either over the hill in age or under the bar in performance to keep things afloat when his go-to guys are on the bench. It failed the Clippers in 2013 and repeated in 2014 — though context shows bad bench production wasn’t the lone reason why the franchise has yet to surpass the second round of the playoffs.

Now the issues — to be clear, the GM ones are still full on the table as this could be year no.3 the off-season hasn’t equated to an improved bench — stem from Rivers the coach.

When the Clippers fired Vinny Del Negro in 2013 and followed up with the rare coaching trade that’d send Rivers to Los Angeles after he decided time was up in Boston (Ray Allen had moved on to Miami, Rajon Rondo was growing into the player we know today, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded, the Celtics were to longer contenders, even in an inadequate Eastern Conference, and Danny Ferry was ready to move into the future, a future that is looking better by the day). The move from Del Negro to Rivers, 25 percent Chris Paul enforcing his will over the front office as the point guard stood as an unrestricted free agent with suitors from other contending team, and the other 75 percent, an outright coaching upgrade. While Del Negro had done a good job building the team up from the day of his arrival in 2011, he and the team reached a ceiling, and the flaws that were once buried underneath a team with zero expectations; but once Paul came onboard via trade, expectations skyrocketed and the world was able to view the Clippers under a playoff lens, showing the world what VDN wasn’t capable of doing would keep a talented group from, for lack of better language, leveling up.

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  • And in came Rivers, bringing his championship experience to the table. It wasn’t the only thing the franchise would need him to do — man the front office, better develop DeAndre Jordan, keep Donald Sterling at bay — but it was the most important given the circumstances that led to the Hollywood arrival.

    So far, the Clippers are shooting blanks but an eventful offseason propped up the expectation in Clipper land thanks to “big-name” additions in Paul Pierce, Josh Smith, and Lance Stephenson.

    Through seven games, one without Chris Paul, the Clippers, for good or for worse, have looked like their usual selves, and the credit for such has a lot to do with Rivers and the way he plays his lineups, allowing too many minutes where none of Jordan, Paul, or Blake Griffin are on the floor. To be specific, the Clippers’ all-bench lineup of Josh Smith-Paul Pierce-Wesley JohnsonJamal CrawfordAustin Rivers has tallied 47 minutes on the season, and in those minutes has drawn a net rating of -11.8, nullifying much of what the starters accomplish before being taken off the floor.

    Over at stat-based site (a wonderful one) Nylon Calculus, author Seth Partnow did an excellent job illustrating how all-bench lineups fail the Clippers by usage of numbers and charts. Using the time period of 3:00 1st quarter to 9:00 2nd quarter, when Rivers usually opts to throw out the bench 5, Partnow notes the Clippers are among the worst in the league, drawing a per-48 net rating of -7.71 and notes a decline from a 6.56 per-48 net rating, making the Clippers the worst in the league in the given period (-14.27), and  a little over four points ahead of everyone’s favorite Philadelphia 76ers (-10.16).

    A drop-off makes sense given the decline in talent — even against bench units it’s almost impossible the Clippers’ bench can keep up with the numbers the starters post. But at some point the onus falls back on Rivers, as it takes recognizing the teams’ biggest flaw and tweaking it to be the best option for the team. Because this isn’t the “Tribe Called Bench” lineup of Lamar Odom/Matt Barnes/Eric Bledsoe/Ronny Turiaf/Matt Barnes from the 2012-13 season that posted a net rating of 11.0 in 283 minutes, relying on their ability to defend at a high level (89.8 DRTG), speed, and low turnovers to throttle opposing bench units.

    These Clippers just aren’t capable of doing such, and the easiest way to slow the bleeding is for Rivers to blend the bench with starters. Some suggestions?

    A Josh Smith-Blake Griffin frontcourt that allows to team to retain a rim protecting presence of some sorts.

    Letting Paul Pierce play minutes with DeAndre Jordan behind him, and surround the two with shooters — Redick, Rivers, Crawford, Paul, Johnson, you pick.

    A two-guard lineup of Rivers-CP3 to put Austin at his “natural” position.

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    Those are just some, and surely a head coach supplied with a coaching staff that probably spends the majority of their time looking over time could conjure up more that’d help the team. Because if things continue as-is, it’ll be another short playoffs for the Clippers, and maybe the end of the Doc Rivers era.

    Maybe it’s arrogance, with Rivers hoping to prop one part of his job via the other. If the bench unit performs well and thrusts the Clippers into playoff territory yet traveled by the franchise, it’s Rivers the GM who’ll look better in the end. Though the traits of not staggering lineups date back to his Boston days, he’d hold all the glory for doing what many would describe unthinkable in Los Angeles when not incorporating the acts of the purple-and-gold: winning a championship. The template was set but it’d be his trades, his signings, his coaching, his Donald Sterling-drama heroics that kept the group from collapse in the first-round series vs. Golden State.

    Who knows, but the time for change is now. Given my view of the situation from a far-outside perspective, the solution seems to be an easy one, and if I can see it surely enough the coaches can, yes? Progressions were made in the past two games, and hopefully it’s just the beginning for Doc.