The Clippers’ high-stakes plan to replace Doc Rivers must be met

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Next season’s risk profile, already tilted towards red, just got hotter for the LA Clippers.After a devastating playoff meltdown and the rampant realization that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George may become free agents next summer, parting ways with Doc Rivers on Monday only raised the stakes. It’s a pivotal moment in franchise history.

It’s the type of move that could end up being the start of a championship story and that owner Steve Ballmer remembers as a brave call. Or it could possibly be seen as compounding the disappointment and setting the team on the path to disaster.

But for now, Ballmer and team president Lawrence Frank have to do one of the hardest things to do in high performance sports: replace a successful coach. It’s not something that usually succeeds without a plan – and if the Clippers have one, it has to be a good one. The discomfort of understanding all of the circumstances that precipitated the end of the season was exacerbated by the difficulty in reading this Clippers team. And it was a discomfort that Ballmer undoubtedly had to reflect on in the two weeks since his team lost a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets.

Was the failure punctual? Did the bizarre nature of the Orlando bubble, combined with players who had been sick with COVID-19 and others who had faced personal tragedy, resulted in a derailment? Or was it the outward manifestation, brought on by maximum stress, of issues that had gripped the team for months?

In the days following the Game 7 loss, the consensus within the Clippers’ front office was last, sources say, and this forced some hard realities to deal with – tough assessments such as: If Doc Rivers didn’t was not “Doc Rivers, would he have lasted as long as the Clippers coach?”

Rivers has won just three playoffs in seven years, despite having excellent talent for most of his tenure. His teams have repeatedly blown the leads, including those two series spots 3-1 – this year at the Nuggets and in 2015 at the Houston Rockets.

His time as team president was imperfect and three years ago he was stripped of the title, although it was touted as a positive outcome that everyone was willing to do at the time. Much like how Ballmer presented the separation with Rivers on Monday as a mutual decision.

Rivers also happens to be a formidable leader of men. He was the lifeblood of the team during the Donald Sterling affair in 2014 which caused tremendous stress midway through the playoffs. He was a leading voice in Orlando this year after players opted out of games, speaking in front of all players, offering advice and dealing with his team, who initially voted to leave the bubble.

And he’s shown his leadership a myriad of times between the two, whether it’s keeping the franchise going after the Chris Paul and Blake Griffin swap, or acting as a senior recruiter when Leonard and George mulled over. to their big move.

Rivers had more leeway than the average coach because he was anything but the average coach. But frankly, his playoff results had been long enough on average for that grace period to expire.

There were puffs of speculation that Rivers’ job might be in trouble after the Nuggets series, but it often came to the same end: if Ballmer had it in him. This answer should have been known. Ballmer is used to winning. He just won a multi-year fight with James Dolan that will pave the way for him to build a new arena in Inglewood.

Ballmer’s quintessential story may have happened in 2013, when he quit under pressure from Microsoft, when investors grew frustrated. The next day, he took in $ 1 billion when the stock jumped on news of his departure. Later that year, he bought the Clippers for $ 2 billion in cash.

Last fall Ballmer was asked about his fight for land and principles with Dolan and his response says it all: “We are grinders. We’re long-time gamers, and we’re grinders. Do you want to hit us in the face? OK ! We will continue to move forward. You can’t knock us out. ”

It’s about to be put to the test.

MORE: Was parting with Doc the right decision?

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