The risk profile next season, already facing the red, got just hotter for the LA Clippers.
After a devastating post-season collapse along with the crashing realization that both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George could become free agents next summer, parting ways with Doc Rivers on Monday has only increased efforts. This is a crucial moment in franchise history.
It’s the type of move that could end up being the start of a championship story and is remembered as a brave call by owner Steve Ballmer. Or it could eventually be seen as a compound disappointment and set the team on course for disaster.
But for now, Ballmer and team president Lawrence Frank have to accomplish one of the hardest things to do in high-level sports: replace a successful coach. It’s not something that typically succeeds without a plan – and if the Clippers have one, it has to be good. The discomfort of understanding the set of circumstances that expired at the end of the season was exacerbated by how difficult this Clippers team was to read. And it was an inconvenience that Ballmer undoubtedly had to mumble in the two weeks since his team jumped a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets.
Was the error a one-time process? Did the bizarre nature of the Orlando bubble combined with players who had been sick with COVID-19 and others who had dealt with personal tragedy become a derailment? Or was it the external manifestation, caused by maximum stress, of problems that had been behind the team for several months?
In the days following the Game 7 loss, consensus within the Clippers’ front office was the latter, sources said, and it forced some harsh realities to be addressed – difficult assessments such as: If Doc Rivers was not “Doc Rivers,” he have been as long as the Clippers coach as he had?
Rivers won just three playoff series in seven years despite having excellent talent through most of his tenure. His team repeatedly blew leads, including the two 3-1 league braids – this year for the Nuggets and in 2015 for the Houston Rockets.
His time as team president was deficient, and three years ago he was stripped of the title, though it was framed as a positive result that everyone was receptive to at the time. Not unlike how Ballmer presented the separation with Rivers on Monday as a mutual decision.
Rivers also happen to be a huge leader of men. He was the team’s rock during the Donald Sterling affair in 2014, causing enormous stress in the middle of the playoffs. He was a leading voice in Orlando this year after players chose to sit out and speak in front of all the players, offer advice and deal with his team, which originally voted to leave the bubble.
And he demonstrated his leadership several times in between, whether it was keeping the franchise together after Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were traded, or acting as a lead recruiter as Leonard and George mumbled their great moves.
Rivers got more leeway than the average coach because he was anything but the average coach. But honestly, his playoff results had been average long enough for the reached period to expire.
There was speculation that River’s job could be in trouble after the Nuggets series, but often it came back to the same bottom line: whether Ballmer had it in him. That answer should have been known. Ballmer is used to winning. He has just finished winning a multi-year battle with James Dolan paving the way for him to build a new arena in Inglewood.
Perhaps the distinctive Ballmer story happened in 2013 when he retired under some pressure as Microsoft CEO after investors became frustrated. The next day, he earned $ 1 billion when the stock jumped on the news of his departure. Later that year, he bought the Clippers for $ 2 billion in cash.
Last fall, Ballmer was asked about his struggle for land and principles with Dolan and his answer spoke volumes: “We are grinders. We are long-term players and we are grinders. Do you want to hit us in the nose? OK! We continue. You can not beat us down. “
It is being put to the test.
MORE: Was separating from Doc the right move?