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By Mike Sandrolini
PROVISO | There’s been a flurry of activity throughout the NBA this summer—trades, draft picks, free-agent signings and front-office changes.
The only real area of stability, ironically, can be found among NBA head coaches—one position that usually experiences its share of turnover.
Barring any unexpected hirings and firings before the start of the preseason in October, each NBA club will have the same head coach going into the 2017-18 campaign that it had at the end of last season.
That includes former Proviso East all-stater Doc Rivers, who’ll be starting his fifth year as the Los Angeles Clippers’ head coach.
However, Rivers’ duties with the team have changed in this respect: he will only be its head coach, and no longer the president of basketball operations (he’s held these dual roles since 2014). He’ll continue to have a say in personnel matters, but Lawrence Frank is the new general manager.
“Doc knows how to win championships,” Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said in a statement after the move was made. “That is what we prioritize, and that is what Doc will focus on. He is key to integrating our new players with our returning players and taking us to new heights on the court.”
The Clippers’ 2017-18 roster will have several new faces—many of those coming after Los Angeles dealt all-star guard Chris Paul to Houston. The Clippers got seven players from the Rockets in return for Paul, along with a protected first-round pick next season and cash considerations. Trading Paul took place shortly after Paul opted out of the final year of his contract and became an unrestricted free agent.
There were media reports that a reason Paul wanted to leave Los Angeles was due to perceived favoritism that guard Clippers guard Austin Rivers, received from Doc, his father.
However, Paul and Austin Rivers cleared the air regarding this matter, according to realgm.com, with Austin calling Paul and asking him, “Chris, what’s going on?” Paul and Austin spoke for 40 minutes, and Paul vehemently denied the reports.
The Clippers also lost shooting guard JJ Redick to free agency—Redick is now teammates with Proviso West product Robert Covington in Philadelphia. But L.A. did sign its all-star power forward Blake Griffin to a five-year, $175 million contract extension after Griffin opted out of his contract and became an unrestricted free agent.
With Griffin, rebounding machine DeAndre Jordan (who also signed a contract extension) and Austin Rivers returning, there is returning experience on the roster. But Doc Rivers said at a recent news conference that he’s going back to what’s worked for him in the past as a coach.
“We’ll have ball movement,” Doc said. “That’s one of the things, for the most part, that I’ve always preached. With Chris’ (Paul’s) skills, you wanted to take advantage of what he could do. He was a guy that needed the ball to make plays and he did it so well, you kind of changed (as a coach) to do that.
“If you look at my work historically, it’s been more of a ball-movement and cut basketball team and that’s what we’re going to get back to doing.”
The Clippers also acquired small forward Danilo Gallinari from the Denver Nuggets, where he averaged 18.2 points per game last season.
Rivers’ record as an NBA head coach is exemplary. Going into his 18th full season—he’s coached at Orlando, Boston and with the Clippers—his teams have made the playoffs each of the past 10 years.
Under Rivers’ leadership, the 2007-08 Celtics put together one of the most noteworthy turnarounds in NBA history over one season. They went from a 24-58 record the previous year to 66-16 en route to winning the 2008 NBA championship.
The Clippers have never won fewer than 51 games in each of the four seasons Rivers has been coach (that 51-win total occurred last year). He owns an 804-584 regular season record—notching his 800th career victory on April 1 of this year—and is 82-79 in the postseason.
As a player, Rivers was a McDonald’s high school all-American (like Austin) and went to Marquette University. The Atlanta Hawks took him in the second round of the 1983 NBA Draft (31st player selected overall). His NBA career spanned 14 seasons with five teams, and he averaged 10.9 points and 5.7 assists per game. During the 1986-87 season with the Hawks, Rivers averaged a double-double (12.8 points and 10.0 assists per game).