Doc Rivers has caught heat for his upper-management moves since becoming Clippers Vice President of basketball operations during June of 2013. The criticism has gotten even harsher after taking over as president last summer. His comments in a USA TODAY article from Monday morning won’t help that.
Here is what Rivers told the paper in this revealing piece from Sam Amick:
I want to fix it. I want to win. That’s why I came here. I knew when I came here that roster-wise it was going to be very difficult. The first thing I did before I took this job, I looked at the roster and we laughed. I was like, ‘What the (expletive) can we do with this?’ It was more the contracts. But we have to try to do it somehow. I don’t know how yet, but something will work out.
That sounds fine and dandy. Come to a team with bad contracts, and you’re going to struggle to make impact moves until you unload those deals. But there’s one fallacy in Rivers’ statement, and it’s a pretty darn important one: The Clippers weren’t actually loaded with bad contracts when Doc came over from Boston during the summer of 2013. Actually, Rivers, himself, has created a habit of turning useful salaries into undesirable ones, as if he’s backwardly spinning gold wire into straw.
Now, he’s also spinning his own version of the truth.
Upon his initial arrival, the Clippers had two max players on the roster: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. DeAndre Jordan, who will command a max contract this offseason, had two years and about $22 million remaining on a valuable deal. Caron Butler had an expiring $8 million contract, a legitimate asset inside an organization which was trying to trade Eric Bledsoe. Butler could help grease any salaries the Clippers would want to bring back in a potential deal (which is exactly what ended up happening when they dealt Bledsoe, Butler and a couple of picks for Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick). Jamal Crawford had three years left on a deal he signed for the full mid-level exception, but the final two years of it were only partially guaranteed. The rest of the roster was made up with rookie and minimum contracts.
Rivers wasn’t done making against-the-grain comments to Amick, later commenting on how to upgrade the roster during the coming offseason.
You’ve got to give (Paul) just some more support, you know? I think bringing (his son) Austin (Rivers) here (in mid-January) helped us. We’ve got a 22-year-old (in Austin), and now to me we’ve got to get another guard who’s in the middle age group. So now you’re growing with Austin and CJ (Wilcox), and we need another defensive guy too.
All year, we’ve heard fans, writers and analysts alike refer to Doc, the Coach and Doc, the GM as if they were two different people. But at times, like when he makes comments like these, it almost appears as if Doc Rivers and Doc Rivers are actually two different people who just so happen to have the same name and face.
He talks about moving forward with Wilcox, but Rivers, the Coach played the rookie a mere 101 minutes the entire season after drafting him 28th this past summer. It’s just another inconsistency we’ve seen from Rivers, a running theme during his two-year stay in L.A.
That’s how the acceptable contracts turn into bad ones. When the Clips acquired Jared Dudley two years ago, no one batted an eye at his $4 million a year contract. Actually, many considered it to be a bargain for a wing who could drain threes and play smart defense. Yet, after one down year in blue, red and white (after which Dudley admitted to Grantland’s Zach Lowe he was playing while seriously injured, something Rivers knew about), the small forward became part of a contract dump.
From super to superfluous.
Unloading Dudley was a link in a chain of events—one uninspired, anxious move followed by another, each one an attempt to cover up for a previous mistake.
Rivers admits his errors, too, whether he knows it or not. The release of Jordan Farmar says so. So does Spencer Hawes’ dwindling playing time throughout the season. And if those transactions erred on the side of disastrous, then the adjacent moves they were forced to make to acquire those players (like the Dudley trade, which included unloading a first-round pick just to give away a wing who would shoot 39 percent from three while playing capable D at the 3 and 4 for a playoff team) were beyond reproach.
Rivers implying he took over an organization hampered with bad contracts was a subtle—and somewhat unnecessary—dig at former Clippers and current Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey, as well as one at Gary Sacks, who ran the Clippers front office the season before Rivers got there and actually finished second in Executive of the Year voting that season. He is currently the Clippers’ assistant GM. Anyone will tell you Olshey is the best general manager in the history of the organization, though there isn’t exactly much competing against him. He compiled assets to make the Chris Paul trade. He’s the man who put together the 2010-11, 22-and-under lineup of Bledsoe, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Griffin and Jordan which had every Clippers fan gushing about the future. Now, though, the future is here, and still, it doesn’t seem good enough.
The Clippers lost to the Rockets in seven games for a variety of reasons, much of which was predicated on their lack of depth. The team was so obviously tired late in the series that maybe the speculated mental collapse and the admitted tightness didn’t matter as much as everyone says. Maybe if the Haweses and Hedo Turkoglus of the world were more playable, then L.A. would’ve been able to get into the Western Conference Finals, regardless.
That’s not on the contracts of yesteryear. It’s not on the moves of Olshey or Sacks. It’s on the unfortunate decisions of this current Clippers front office, one which includes general manager Dave Wohl and Vice President of Basketball Operations Kevin Eastman, though Rivers has final say in personnel decisions.
Failure isn’t always the worst possible result. People can learn from it. But obliviousness stunts progression, and now we’re left wondering if L.A. can improve at all if it’s unable to acknowledge its past faults.
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