With the NBA Finals not set to begin until Friday night and this week’s NBA Scouting Combine primarily being a virtual affair thanks to COVID-19, there isn’t much taking place on the court either Monday or Tuesday. But there was big news in the coaching ranks, as the Clippers announced that Doc Rivers would not be returning next season as head coach. Rivers spent seven seasons with the franchise, and while the overall record (356 wins, 208 losses) was certainly impressive the lack of results in the postseason proved to be his undoing.
He was unable to get the Clippers to the Western Conference Finals, something that the franchise has still yet to accomplish in its history. And there were two second-round series losses in which the Clippers held a 3-1 lead, with the most recent collapse coming at the hands of the Denver Nuggets down in the bubble earlier this month. Once the final buzzer sounder one had to know that Steve Ballmer would make some major changes, and Rivers’ dismissal is the first move.
While this is certainly a results-driven business, to simply focus on the lack of playoff success during Rivers’ tenure would be every unfair. With the Clippers having landed in the draft lottery in 13 of the 14 seasons prior to Rivers’ arrival, the hope was that he could at the very least turn the team into a consistent playoff participant. He accomplished that, and Rivers also led the franchise through the Donald Sterling saga back in 2014.
And not to be overlooked is his influence within the league as a whole, as evidenced not only by his own words on social injustice while in the bubble but also his serving as a sounding board of sorts to the players, and a number of them didn’t play for the Clippers. He gave advice during the meeting held following the decision to boycott playoff games in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake, and his press conference following the Clippers’ Game 5 win over Dallas won’t soon be forgotten.
Rivers’ dismissal has a significant impact on the coaching carousel, as an excellent head coach with a championship on his resume is now available. According to multiple reports, Philadelphia and New Orleans have already reached out to Rivers to gauge his interest in their job openings. In total there are now six job openings that still need to be filled: Philadelphia, New Orleans, L.A. Clippers, Houston, Indiana and Oklahoma City.
— Where do the Clippers go from here?
Speaking solely from a talent standpoint this is the best available job when it comes to contending for a title immediately. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are both under contract for next season, as are rotation players such as Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Ivica Zubac. But there are a lot of questions to answer, as Montrezl Harrell and Marcus Morris will be unrestricted free agents and JaMychal Green has a player option for next season. With there also being a few players who weren’t consistent rotation options also set to be free agents, the cast given the task of supporting Leonard and George could look a lot different next season.
Trades to acquire George and Morris cost the Clippers a total of seven first-round picks, with some of those being swaps, but that’s an issue for Lawrence Frank to address. Add in the fact that both Leonard and George have the ability to opt out of their deals after next season, and a lot will be on the line for the Clippers in 2020-21. A roster built to win now, whoever takes over for Rivers will need to be willing to take on that task.
Two names reported as possibilities for the opening are current Clippers assistant Tyronn Lue and former Knicks/Rockets head coach (and current ESPN color commentator) Jeff Van Gundy. Lue, who coached the Cavaliers to the franchise’s NBA title in 2016, has been mentioned as a possibility for other openings and will reportedly interview with the 76ers Tuesday.
And if Lue is to be considered for the Clippers opening, why couldn’t fellow Clippers assistant Sam Cassell (who was reported to be a possibility in Houston earlier this month) also be an option? Given the difficultly of the job, and what was given away to put together this season’s roster, Ballmer and Frank can’t afford to leave any stone unturned in their search for a new head coach.
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— Gordon Hayward expected to pick up option
Hayward, who missed much of the postseason due to a sprained ankle suffered in the Celtics’ playoff opener, has a player option worth nearly $34.2 million for next season. Given what this offseason’s free agency market is likely to be, thanks to COVID-19 putting a dent in team/league revenues and some franchises waiting to make major moves until next offseason, it’s tough to see Hayward commanding that kind of payday on the open market.
So it should come as no surprise that ESPN’s Tim Bontemps reported on Monday that Hayward is expected to pick up the player option. Should that happen all of the major pieces in the rotation would be back next season, while backup center Enes Kanter has a player option of his own worth a little over $5 million. Boston’s biggest decision this offseason is deciding whether or not to offer Jayson Tatum a max extension, with it being reported that team ownership is expected to do so.
— Report: Victor Oladipo’s looking to move this offseason
After missing nearly a full calendar year after rupturing the quadriceps tendon in his leg, Oladipo made his return to the Pacers lineup. While there were flashes of the athleticism that made him on of the NBA’s most improved players in his first season with Indiana, Oladipo still had a significant amount of rust to work off. He struggled in the bubble during the Pacers’ first-round sweep at the hands of Miami, and now it appears as if Oladipo is ready to move on.
Jared Weiss of The Athletic reported Monday that Oladipo, who will become an unrestricted free agent next season, is “looking to move on this offseason.” If he does indeed want to be traded and the Pacers were to accommodate his desires, I’d be pretty excited about what that would mean for Malcolm Brogdon regardless of who Indiana would receive in return.
Brogdon was Indiana’s best player during the first round, and no Oladipo would ensure that he would have the ball in his hands even more as a primary playmaker. This season, his first with the Pacers, Brodgon provided seventh-round value in nine-category formats and sixth-round value in eight-cat. He should pick picked much higher than that ahead of next season, especially if Oladipo were to be traded.