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Doc Rivers Takes Talents To Clipperland; What It Means For Lob City And The Celtics Legacy

Doc Rivers
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Doc Rivers

May 3, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Former Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers watches from the sideline as they take on the New York Knicks in game six of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. The New York Knicks defeated the Celtics 88-80. David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

TD Garden has looked more like a rodeo than a basketball arena after days of anxious wrangling and jockeying. Looking to pick up the pieces of a fallen era, the Los Angeles Clippers have landed their primary target, the top-5 active coach Doc Rivers. The deal went from unexpected to dead, to stalled, to reanimated at various turns, mirroring the seesaw theatrics of this year’s splendid NBA Finals.

The trade’s winding nature has left even the NBA league front office bewildered by its many moving parts and rule violations. Nevertheless, the reins of L.A.’s Showtime 2.0 are now Rivers’ to pull on, and the ubuntu culture that has run through the veins of Boston since 2008 has gone the way of NBA big men with post moves.

But despite what the media might try to sell you, the Rivers move doesn’t just benefit the Los Angeles Clippers, who will use it as a ploy to retain free agent Chris Paul. Celtics ownership couldn’t justify paying a coach―Rivers or not―$7 million a season as it trudged through the mud of rebuilding. In need of marquee leadership, the Clippers got one of the game’s best minds for three years and $21 million; the Celtics save cash by moving Doc and buoy their burgeoning assets with a 2015 first-round pick. Both backs have been adequately scratched.

It should be noted that the NBA is looking into the legality of Doc’s trade, so nothing is yet guaranteed. But, other than the cosmetic implications, how else does the Doc migration affect both franchises?

CP3 Gets His Popovich

The “who’s the best point guard in the league?” debate usually leans toward Chris Paul, even if Tony Parker has the better resume. His supporters contend that Paul, with his once-in-an-era talents, hasn’t had the fortune of other point guards who have been paired with suitable coaches. That is, CP3 has yet to meet his Popovich.

With Rivers at the helm, Paul can finally live up to his franchise pedigree, and morph into the champion a legacy debate requires. Sticking it out with Doc convincingly kills any prospect of Paul teaming up with Dwight Howard on some subpar team, and might make recruiting complementary talent for the All-Star an easier task. The cool-mannered Rivers can also smooth things out with Paul and Griffin, and allow both players to buy into a system that values end goals over egos.

A New Big Three Without Rivers

If the Clippers had done a better job of masking a Rivers & KG bowtie courtship as anything but, the league might not have axed it at the onset. But now that the Rivers dump seems secure, reports say that the league will not let Kevin Garnett be traded to the Clippers under any circumstances. The Clippers will only be allowed to have their cake; the eating will be done by Stern.

Without Rivers or the Clippers as an option, Garnett most realistically decides to end his career as a Celtic. Certainly his no-trade clause will allow him to do that.

So with Garnett on the roster, and Pierce most likely out, the Celtics would build around Green, Bradley, Rondo, and Sullinger. They have the option of pursuing a solid center in order to shift Garnett into his natural power forward spot, having Green start at small forward and Sullinger come off the bench for KG. Or, they can bring in a good stretch four to protect the paint alongside Garnett, who would keep his center responsibilities, and perhaps step into that task when Garnett is taking a breather.

The Jazz have let Al Jefferson test the free agency waters, and the 28-year-old center could be a nice piece for the C’s, but with salaries as they stand, it would be hard to acquire the big man. The only viable option would be to amnesty Pierce, and hope Garnett retires as a consequence, opening up enough space for Jefferson’s contract. That scenario wouldn’t be optimal as a Jefferson/Green/Sullinger or Bass/Bradley/Rondo would not be much better than what the team has now.

Pierce To Cleveland, Or Beyond

Of Boston’s remaining Big Three, Pierce, with a $15 million price tag, might be the first to go. Sources say that the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have a gaping hole at the small forward position, are interested in the future Hall of Famer. In return, the Celtics would receive Cleveland’s 31st and 33rd selections in this upcoming draft.

The move makes more sense for Boston than it does for Cleveland as Pierce would essentially be a one-year rental for a squad many years removed from being a contender. And even for Boston, it’s not the most lucrative deal they could get their hands on. If they decide to move Pierce at this winter’s trade deadline, instead of this summer as Cleveland would like, they could potentially receive a bigger payout for a time-tested veteran from a team chasing a trophy.

A similar move might be imminent for Pierce, but almost certainly won’t involve the Cavaliers.

Weathering The Impending Rajon Rondo Storm

If both Pierce and Garnett chase greener pastures this summer, Rondo will become the team’s certified leader. In rebuilding mode, that means he’ll have to tailor his game to new recruits, guide rookie add-ons with leadership traits, and weather a 2-4 year storm that might see a number of his best years lost to lineup experimentation.

Rondo, not known for his patience or mild manners, might make it hard for a new coaching head and for management to navigate the waters of unpredictability with him. The kid is a wondrous talent, but without weathered players to supply the ball to, Rondo might pull a Kobe and make life hell for Boston management until he’s traded elsewhere.

Or, the very opposite can happen.

Tapping into a full-fledged youth renaissance, Boston could see a Rondo-led Celtics transform a squad showcasing Sullinger, Green, Bradley, a big free agent, and future draft picks into a near-future contender.

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