clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

A history of Doc Rivers' uncreativity

New, comments

Doc Rivers had all the power in the Clippers' front office, and he used it to bring in ex-players and guys who randomly had career highs against his team.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The time as Doc Rivers the GM has come to an end, as he was let go of front office responsibilties and will now only be the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers. Rivers was often scrutinized for his front office decisions, for the example the 2016 trade deadline. At this deadline, the Los Angeles Clippers were one of the few teams to make a move, bringing in Jeff Green. Green played for coach Doc Rivers back when Rivers coached the Boston Celtics, which continues a trend. ESPN's Amin Elhassan explained.

Elhassan lumps players Rivers has acquired into three main categories: Players who played for Rivers previously, players who went off against Rivers in the playoffs and players who are literally Doc Rivers' son. It highlights the seemingly uncreative and lackluster job Rivers has done as the Clippers' final say on all basketball decisions, a tendency which might be hampering a talented core that's earned a reputation for falling short in the postseason.

We took a look at some of the acquisitions the Clippers have made since Rivers became coach to see for ourselves.

June 28, 2017: Trade Chris Paul for Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Lou Williams, Kyle Wiltjer, cash and a TPE.

Chris Paul made it clear he wanted to go to Houston and this move was more magic pulled off by Houston than Los Angeles, but Doc got plenty back in return. It will take time so see how this play out but it's hard to imagine the Clippers being any better next season. Although, they may not be any worse either.

July 25, 2016: Clippers sign Raymond Felton

Felton's numbers weren't great with the Clippers but he actually played as a decent backup to Chris Paul and played even better while filling in for Paul when needed. That said, it's Raymond Felton at the end of the day.

July 19, 2016: Clippers sign Brandon Bass

The only weird correlation here is that Brandon Bass did play for the Celtics recently, just not while Doc was there.

July 7 and 8, 2016: Clippers sign Austin Rivers, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Wes Johnson, and Jamal Crawford

Doc doubles down on previously questionable decisions.

Sept. 25, 2015: Clippers sign Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

Rivers has seen a disproportionate amount of the best games of Mbah a Moute's career. In 518 games, he's never scored more than 22 points. Two of his top 10 all-time scoring performances came against Rivers' Celtics teams, a 20-point night in 2012 and a 19-point night in 2011.

Aug. 3, 2015: Clippers sign Pablo Prigioni

Prigioni has been to the playoffs two times in his NBA career, and both times, he managed to impress in a series that knocked out Rivers' Celtics.

In 2013, Prigioni was instrumental as the New York Knicks beat the Celtics in the first round, hitting three threes and getting five steals in a Game 3 win and drilling four threes in the Knicks' clinching Game 6 win. In 2015, Prigioni played a smaller role for the Houston Rockets in their victory, but still shot the ball well, including a 3-for-5 performance from downtown in Game 1.

July 16, 2015: Clippers sign Josh Smith

Smith wasn't great last year -- the Pistons cut him and got better, and then he got signed by the Rockets, where he was alright. But he absolutely showed up to help the Rockets take down the Clippers in the playoffs. In Game 6, he was instrumental in an enormous comeback, scoring 19 points (14 in the fourth quarter) as the Rockets came back from a huge deficit to force a Game 7. He even hit 4 threes on seven attempts, rare for a notoriously bad shooter.

The Clippers signed him two months later! It didn't go well, and the team traded Smith back to Houston along with cash in January.

July 13, 2015: Clippers sign Cole Aldrich

Can't really find any standouts by Cole against Rivers' teams. Hey! We found at least one!

July 10, 2015: Clippers sign Paul Pierce

Paul freakin' Pierce.

July 9, 2015: Clippers sign Wes Johnson

Johnson played reasonably well against the Clippers last year with the Lakers, but nothing that crazy. Let's be fair to Doc and put him in the neutral category.

June 15, 2015: Clippers trade for Lance Stephenson

Lance did score 22 points against Rivers' Clippers in 2014, one of his top 20 scoring performances in a 314-game career, but that doesn't seem that wild.

March 29, 2015: Clippers sign Lester Hudson

Hudson began his NBA career playing for Rivers, a draft pick of the Celtics in 2009. That said, he only played 16 games for Boston, and spent most of his lone season under Rivers bouncing back and forth with the Celtics' D-League affiliate.

March 7, 2015: Clippers sign Nate Robinson

I'm not sure you'll believe me when I tell you this, but it's true: Nate Robinson was once on the court for the deciding moments of Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Here, I made a screencap so you know I'm not lying:

Look. It's the NBA Finals, it's clearly Game 7, it's a close game and there's Famed Short Dunk Contest Guy and general NBA annoyance Nate Robinson on the court. He played the majority of the last minute in the deciding game of the NBA season as the Celtics tried to space the floor with shooters down with limited time remaining.

Indeed, Robinson was a member of the 2010 Celtics that won the Eastern Conference. He had the best shooting season of his career, hitting 41.4 percent from three and providing energy as Rajon Rondo's backup. He even had 12 points in Game 4 of the Finals! But alas, the team traded him for -- you guessed it! -- Jeff Green the next year.

Feb. 24, 2015: Clippers sign Jordan Hamilton

It would be fun to say that Hamilton's career high of 18 points against the Clippers -- the only game where he's ever had more than 11 points -- was the deciding factor, but that game was in 2012. Rivers wasn't there yet.

Jan 15, 2015: Clippers sign Austin Rivers

Doc probably remembered Austin from his debut outing on Aug. 1, 1992. The two reportedly stayed in touch over the years after that performance.

Jan. 14, 2015: Clippers sign Dahntay Jones

Rivers briefly resurrected Jones, who hadn't played in the NBA for over two seasons. Perhaps he remembered when Jones scored 25 points against his Celtics in 2009. In 622 career games, his only better performance was a 26 point outing in 2007.

Sept. 19, 2014: Clippers sign Jared Cunningham

Jared has never played for Doc Rivers, nor has he played well against him! Unless you consider a six-point outing in 2014 a good performance.

Sept. 3, 2014: Clippers sign Ekpe Udoh

Like Hamilton, Udoh had the best game of his career against the Clippers the year before Rivers arrived, a 19-point performance in 2012.

Sept. 3, 2014: Clippers sign Chris Douglas-Roberts

CDR never played particularly well against any of Doc's teams, nor did he play well against the Clippers shortly before Doc was brought aboard. Hey! Another one!

July 10, 2014: Clippers sign Jordan Farmar

Farmar was on the Los Angeles Lakers teams that matched up against the Celtics in the 2008 and 2010 Finals. He was always a reserve player, serving as Derek Fisher's backup at point guard, but posted double digits twice against the Celtics in 2008 and was firmly in the rotation when the Lakers won in 2010.

July 10, 2014: Clippers sign Spencer Hawes

Tough to find a game that stands out for Spencer against Rivers' teams. We're flying now!

Feb. 28, 2014: Clippers sign Danny Granger

Granger wasn't particularly brilliant against Rivers' teams, but it wasn't exactly advanced scouting to sign him. The 2009 All-Star had just been cut after the Indiana Pacers dumped his salary on the Philadelphia 76ers, and Granger chose L.A. over the Heat, Spurs, Rockets and Mavericks. Still, we'll count it. That's three! Granger played with the Heat the next year, but hasn't found another NBA job.

Feb. 14, 2014: Clippers sign Glen Davis

Here are 1,000 words about why Doc Rivers probably signed Glen Davis:

Feb. 3, 2014: Clippers sign Sasha Vujacic

The Machine's most prominent NBA roles were for the Lakers teams that faced off against Rivers and the Celtics in the Finals twice. He's actually the guy shooting free throws in the Nate Robinson picture I dropped in! Vujacic has scored 20 points only eight times in his career, and one of those came in the Finals against Boston, a Game 3 victory in 2010.

Jan. 16, 2014: Clippers sign Hedo Turkoglu

Turkoglu helped power the Orlando Magic past Rivers' Celtics in 2009, including 25 points and 12 assists in a decisive Game 7 win. With Jameer Nelson hurt, Turkoglu served as the point forward, leading the Magic in assists as they made a surprise trip to the Finals and ended one of the few seasons in Boston's Big Three championship window. This was Turkoglu's last NBA job.

Dec. 10, 2013: Clippers sign Stephen Jackson

Jackson was pretty good against a lot of teams, including Rivers' Celtics, so I can't quite say he got a gig because of a particularly good game against Doc. This was his last NBA stint.

August 28, 2013: Clippers sign Antawn Jamison

Like Jackson, Jamison was a good player for a long time who had some good games against everybody, including Rivers' teams. He played alright in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals with Cleveland -- LeBron's supposed last games as a Cav --  but I doubt that memory inspired Doc too much. Like Jackson, this was Jamison's last NBA gig.

July 22, 2013: Clippers sign Byron Mullens

Mullens might be the best example of a player turning one crazy outlier performance against Rivers into a contract.

Mullens' NBA career was pretty meh. But against Rivers' Celtics in 2013, he turned in what was probably the best game of his career. He had 18 rebounds, a career high. He had 25 points, his third-best scoring outing ever. And he drilled 4-of-5 threes, absolutely ridiculous for a career 31 percent shooter.

Four months later, Rivers took the Clippers job and a few weeks after that, the Clippers signed Mullens.

July 10, 2013: Clippers sign Darren Collison

Collison scored 25 against Rivers' Celtics in 2010, one of the top 15 games of his career, but we'll give Doc the benefit of the doubt on this one too. We're up to several players who didn't go off against Doc or play for him!

July 10, 2013: Clippers trade for Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick

This was the first move of the Doc tenure, made to get something in return for Eric Bledsoe when it became clear he was too good to simply be Chris Paul's backup.

Dudley didn't have a spectacular history against Rivers' teams, but Redick was the gunner on the Magic team that beat the Celtics in 2009.

* * *

For the most part, I'd say Elhassan's theory checks out. But I'd like to add a few other ways Rivers has been less than innovative when making acquisitions.

  • Players who played for Doc Rivers elsewhere: 5 (Paul Pierce, Nate Robinson, Glen Davis, Lester Hudson and now, Jeff Green) Hey, they've been on teams I've coached before -- they'll fit in fine on another team I'm coaching!
  • Players who beat Doc Rivers in playoff series: 6 (Pablo Prigioni, Josh Smith Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Hedo Turkoglu, J.J. Redick) These are guys Rivers saw on teams beating his team. Hey, they've been on winning teams -- they can help us be a winning team!
  • Players who inexplicably went for career highs/near career highs against Doc Rivers' teams: 3 (Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Byron Mullens, Dahntay Jones) These are guys Rivers saw playing extremely well. Those guys are great! (But, Doc, what about the rest of their mediocre careers?) Shut up. They were great. I saw it.
  • Players who inexplicably went for career highs against the Clippers the year before he got there: 2 (Jordan Hamilton, Ekpe Udoh) It's possible these two players signed with Doc as a coincidence. It's also possible someone in the Clippers' front office has a short memory. It's also possible Doc watched tape of his team the previous year and saw these guys succeeding and wanted them. I find it rather strange that Rivers turned to two separate players who had the best games of their careers against his new team the year before he came there, so I made this its own category.
  • Ex-stars who played well against pretty much anybody in the twilight of their NBA career: 3 (Antawn Jamison, Stephen Jackson and let's say Danny Granger even though he played for the Heat afterwards. No comment on Paul Pierce) Hey, those guys were great! Let's kick the tires on them! (But Doc, they're not quite the player they used to be.) They were great! I saw it!
  • Players who are Doc Rivers' child: 1 (Austin Rivers) With another son in the D-League and a third currently playing at UC-Irvine, it's actually a credit to Rivers that he's only signed one of these players.
  • Anybody else: 7 (Cole Aldrich, Lance Stephenson, Wes Johnson, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Jared Cunningham, Jared Dudley, Darren Collison)

It's worth noting that in addition to the ex-stars, a lot of players in the first few categories (Turkoglu, Farmar, Jones and Davis) have yet to play again, and Robinson's only gig since was a cup of coffee with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Combined with the guys who had one-off performances against his team, this leads to one pretty big conclusion: as an executive, Rivers seems to care a lot more about whether he once saw a player performing well than he worries about whether a player is actually any good. There are more factors in scouting NBA players now than at any point in the league's existence, but for Rivers, "I remember this guy, and he was good!" still seems to be the biggest criterion.

I don't want to say Rivers has done a bad job with the Clippers. They've been a good team in all three seasons he's coached them, and he did a really good job as coach of the Celtics, so his basketball acumen deserves the benefit of the doubt. But Rivers has definitely been un-inventive when thinking about who to add to his team.

The Clippers are in a weird place. They have several stars in the primes of their careers, and have been one of the Western Conference's best teams for a while. But they've never gotten to the Finals, and with the Warriors and Spurs still the class of the league, it's honestly hard to imagine them getting there. They're probably not going to get past their historically brilliant counterparts by continuing to bank on retreads and guys Rivers once saw have a good game.