Doc Rivers Expediting Los Angeles Clippers Cultural Transformation

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Doc Rivers Expediting Los Angeles Clippers Cultural Transformation
USA Today

When the Los Angeles Clippers traded for Chris Paul in 2011, things changed. When they acquired Doc Rivers from the Boston Celtics in 2013, everything changed even more.

The Clippers bet big on Rivers, relinquishing an unprotected 2015 first-round draft pick in exchange for his services, before making him the NBA's highest paid coach and acting general manager. It was an investment and commitment uncharacteristic of Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

And it was worth every penny and ounce of control he had to concede.

Bringing in Rivers ensured Paul went nowhere in free agency, a massive victory in and of itself. But it also paved the way for a transformation, making the Clippers what they are now: Western Conference powerhouse and model of success.

 

Cultural Shock...In a Good Way

Joe Murphy/Getty Images

There's a stark contrast between this season's Clippers and last year's team that isn't always reflected in the standings.

At 41-20, the Clippers are once again battling for a top-three spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, tracking toward a second consecutive Pacific Division crown. There's a real chance they wind up with the fourth-best record like last season. But that doesn't mean this season is a lateral move.

Paul is the same player, prone to injury, double-doubles and leading the league in assists and steals. He's the same leader, too, trumpeted for his floor management and court vision, still capable of creeping in and out of the MVP conversation.

So much else about the Clippers is different, even for tenured players DeAndre Jordan and Griffin.

Noah Graham/Getty Images

Rivers has made good on his promise to turn Jordan into a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Under his watchful and demanding eye, Jordan has developed into a double-double machine and fourth-quarter staple. He's averaging a career high in minutes (36), points (10.1) and rebounds (league-leading 13.9), and he joins Joakim Noah, David West, Paul George, Lance Stephenson and Roy Hibbert as the only players registering a defensive rating under 100 while playing more than 30 ticks per game.

Griffin has experienced an identical rise in stock.

Forced into a more prominent leadership role by Rivers and Paul's extended absence, Griffin is having an MVP-caliber season, joining a discussion consisting mostly of LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

"It’s been important for us as a team to learn to have to play without him because I think at times we relied a little bit too much on him," Griffin told NBA.com's Jeff Caplan. "At the end of games you kind of think, ‘OK, we have the ball and it’s in our guy’s hands and we’re just going to kind of let him do his thing. I think we really had to rely on our system."

It's a system put in place by Rivers, effectively aimed at catering to more than just one player. And it's a system that's working.

In addition to averaging a career high in points (24.2), Griffin boasts a refined post game that is no longer heavily predicated on Paul-foisted opportunities. While still a work in progress defensively, he's playing some of the best ball of his career on that end.

Together, Paul, Griffin and Jordan are the Big Three they never were under Vinny Del Negro. Each player has accumulated at least seven win shares, leaving the Clippers as the only team with multiple players in the top 15 of said category.

"Our team, we talk a lot more than we used to in the past, try not to leave anything unsaid," Paul explained to Caplan. "We’re a family and we play like that."

At the heart of all the talking and winning is Rivers, who has spearheaded the heightened sense of camaraderie, demanding more from players such as Griffin, Jordan and even the now-absent Jamal Crawford.

Injuries have threatened the livelihood of this team on numerous occasions. Paul, Crawford and J.J. Redick have all battled serious health issues, and each time, the Clippers have had an answer.

Whether it's Griffin or Jordan doing and playing more, or surprise performances from Darren Collison or Crawford himself, the Clippers haven't missed a beat despite suffering superfluous losses.

 

Toast of the Town, and More

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Players want to play for the Clippers, now more than ever.

Paul's arrival made them a more appealing destination, but Rivers solidified them as a choice team. And he did it before this season even started.

"A lot of people this year are like, 'Man, it's cool to be a Clipper...'" Paul told Bleacher Report in August. He said it matter-of-factly, as if it were no big deal and the Clippers had more pressing things to concern themselves with—like winning.

While true, Rivers' appeal to interested players has been more important than Paul or anyone else could have predicted.

It was Rivers who helped reel in Glen "Big Baby" Davis after he was bought out by the Orlando Magic, giving the Clippers some much-needed frontcourt depth.

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Doc has pull among players.

"You always do," Rivers said of Davis, per the Los Angeles Times' Broderick Turner. "I'm not going to say any names, but yeah. There's more than one team that wants all these guys—at least a lot of the guys. So, you have to talk to them."

Stealing Davis from teams like the Brooklyn Nets was just the beginning. Rivers wasn't done.

As soon as former All-Star Danny Granger cleared waivers, the Clippers scooped him up. Presenting him with the potential opportunity to start was too good for the veteran forward to pass up, so Rivers got his guy.

Again.

"We want to win, too," Rivers said, via Turner. "That's it. Other than that, I'm not a beauty queen. They're not going to come and play for me for my looks."

There's no mistaking Rivers for someone else. Players will flock to Los Angeles because of him. Paul stayed in Los Angeles largely because of him.

The Clippers are a free-agent powerhouse because he's there, promising the right things, armed with the credentials and means to back them up.

 

Barely Recognizable

Sam Forencich/Getty Images

If Paul instilled a playoff mindset into the Clippers organization, Rivers put it in championship mode.

This isn't a team running away from its checkered past, attempting to redefine itself. The Clippers have already changed, transforming into a legitimate contender with all the dressings of a powerhouse.

"Since training camp, every practice we’ve talked about playoff preparation," Paul said, via ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi. "Like every practice is about being locked in and staying focused, and we’re getting closer and closer to that point."

Who has changed the perception of the Clippers more?

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Throw whatever criticism you want at the Clippers, they're not going anywhere. They're one of only five teams that rank in the top 10 of both offensive and defensive efficiency and have overcome enough adversity and curveballs to prove their mettle.

And though it may be Griffin scoring all those points, Paul dropping all those dimes and Jordan grabbing all the rebounds, Los Angeles' success is not on them alone.

Each victory is a collective effort, headlined by the man behind the lineups, increased work ethic and senses of identity and purpose: Doc Rivers, the culture-changing, title-chasing coach responsible for reinventing the Clippers' way of life.

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.


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