In a move further cementing the Los Angeles Clippers as the unquestioned glamour team of L.A., Jackie MacMullan of ESPN is reporting the much talked about Doc Rivers-to-the-Clippers deal as finalized. With the expected re-signing of Chris Paul and the possible addition of a certain Boston duo, the Clippers may finally be ready to challenge for an NBA title.
Sending an unprotected 2015 first-round pick to the Celtics while consequently inking Rivers to a three-year, $21 million deal would appear a steal for a team already ensured to receive an "addition by subtraction" bump via their May firing of former head coach—two-time winner of the "How in the Hell Was He Hired" award Vinny Del Negro.
While no miracle worker, as evidenced by his .415 winning percentage his first three seasons in Boston which included a franchise-worst 18-game losing streak, Rivers is an unmatched motivator and leader of men. Over time, he has developed into one of the game's brightest and most adept tacticians.
Outside of Phil Jackson, there may be no more respected coach in NBA basketball circles.
Rivers has built that respect over a 30-year NBA career as a player, TV commentator and championship-winning head coach. The Clippers hope his hiring will lure back face of the franchise Chris Paul, who will be a free agent on July 1.
In the two seasons since the December 2011 trade, which saw the Clippers escape the doldrums of basketball ineptitude, the franchise has reached previously unforeseen heights. The Clippers have posted back-to-back franchise-best winning percentages and reached the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time since '91-92 and '92-93, all while giving rise to the "Lob City" phenomenon.
While Paul is undoubtedly the team's best player, no player better personifies the team's high-flying, in-your-face, above-the-rim style than Blake Griffin.
We've seen "The Perkins," and being "Mozgov'd" has replaced "posterized" in the basketball lexicon. Griffin is also a crossover star with a dry sense of humor and ability to laugh at himself that translates well on the screen.
Besides his leaping ability and ever-increasing "Q" rating, Griffin is a legitimate All-Star who can finish around the rim and run the floor. If Blake never improves, he will leave this league with a more than respectable and profitable career.
But when a team trades first-round draft picks and is willing to dole out $7 million annually for a coach, "more than respectable" is not what it is looking for. Similarly, when the game's premier point guard is looking for a running mate to help topple Mount LeBron, he's not looking for a well-dressed man in a bowtie.
Simply put, if the Clippers are going to win a championship next season, they are going to need consistent and dynamic improvement from Griffin.
That would include a reliable post-counter, mid-range jumper, better positioning defensively and rebounding rates to match his otherworldly athleticism and strength.
A look at Griffin's shot chart, via Grantland, shows Griffin and the Clippers' No. 1 problem. For a team whose best player is a facilitator, having a secondary star who is incapable of consistently scoring outside of the paint is going to cause some issues. While he has shown some incremental improvements to his mid-range game, he's still far too inconsistent without a dominant low-post game.
What's been most alarming about Griffin has not only been his lack of improvement but also his regression in certain key areas. In both traditional and advanced metrics, Griffin has progressively worsened as a rebounder all three seasons of his career. For a 24-year-old, there is absolutely no reason a rebounding rate should fall from 26.9 in a rookie season to 21.5 two seasons later.
And for all of this talk about scoring and rebounding, Griffin's most glaring deficiency continues to be his inability to effect the game defensively.
The acquisition of Doc Rivers signals the continuation of a new era in Clippers basketball, one that began two years ago with the blockbuster deal for Chris Paul. But for all of the eventual excitement a likely Rivers-Paul joint press conference will bring, the most important player for this franchise continues to be Blake Griffin.
For better or worse.