The NBA’s Western Conference has been tougher than the Eastern Conference for more than a decade. And there are two ways to change that, traditionally. Teams just getting better through building and decision-making (the Pacers are a great example) and players jumping from West to East (let’s see, Deron Williams from Utah to the Nets did that, though Carmelo Anthony to the Knickerbockers did not).
But now we’ve found a third way. Tilt the coaching factor. Hire away the West’s best coaches.
Except Doc Rivers going from the Celtic to the Clippers figures to make the difference even more one-sided. Rivers is widely considered the NBA’s second-best coach, behind Gregg Popovich. I don’t know if that’s legit or not. Rivers coached nine years in Boston. When he had the super team (starting lineup of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Kendrick Perkins), Rivers’ teams were great. One NBA title, one NBA Finals loss (barely). If those Celts had stayed healthy, they might have won three titles. Of course, old players get hurt. That’s the way it works. But ESPN Stats points out that in Rivers’ first three years and last three years, Boston was one game over .500.
In Clipperville, you could point out that Rivers is taking over another super team, with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. That’s not technically true, just yet. Paul is not under contract, although that’s expected to be a mere formality with the acquisition of Rivers. The Clippers have some work to do, with only Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Caron Butler, Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe and Willie Green tied up for next season. That’s a roster that needs to be filled in.
Lots of rumors have flown around in recent days. A Blake Griffin-for-Dwight Howard trade, which would seem to be not in the Clippers’ best interests, unless that’s what Paul wants. CP3 has become a virtual franchise decision-maker, and the Paul-Griffin feud rumors grew fangs deep in the season. A Jordan-for-Garnett trade, which would help the Clippers in the short term but could be costly long-term; Garnett doesn’t have a lot of tread left. A Paul Pierce signing, if the Celtics cut him loose. That could definitely happen.
So we’ll see how the Clippers fill out the roster and what Rivers does with it. The Clippers were branded as an undercoached team with Vinny Del Negro, who is consistently bashed. He might be a terrible coach, for all I know, but he did a solid job with a young Chicago team, coached the Clippers to just their second playoff series victory since the franchise moved from Buffalo 35 years ago and now he’s being mentioned for quality jobs in Boston and Denver. So clearly, more than one somebody thinks the guy can coach.
If nothing else, the trade for Rivers is a home run for the Clippers if it entices Paul to sign a new contract. Signing Paul and Griffin to long-term deals secures the Clippers’ status as a Western heavyweight, joining the Thunder, Spurs and probably Grizzlies there, with the Nuggets, Lakers and Rockets tinkering with their rosters, and the Warriors young enough to still make huge jumps.
The Clippers have solidified their hold as the best team in Los Angeles, which has to rankle the Lakers. When Donald Sterling trumps you, you’ve been trumped.
That’s the mystery to me, around the Rivers decision to join the Clippers. I’m surprised he would work for an owner like Sterling, who has a 30-year history of ineptness and downright maliciousness. Quality ownership is an absolute must-have in professional sports, and the Clippers don’t have it. A roster that promises CP3 and Blake Griffin is awfully tempting. But tempting enough to work for Sterling? That surprises me.