Most basketball experts will point to Chris Paul as L.A.’s unquestioned leader and MVP. But if you ask Jamal Crawford, who recently spoke with Dime’s Spencer Lund, we should be handing that trophy to someone else entirely:
But Doc [Rivers] has truly been the MVP of our team. I think getting everybody to buy in from day 1. It’s coming from a guy — and that’s no disrespect to anybody else, because I was a big Vinny Del Negro guy — but it’s more Doc. ... If you want to be a championship-level you kind of have to have a championship-level coach. Someone that’s actually won it, or been there. You know he’s done both, so we’ve all bought in, and he’s been the true MVP of this season.
We’ve seen plenty of examples over the years of NBA players throwing former coaches—or former teammates, for that matter—under the bus.
This isn’t exactly that. Think of it more like throwing someone under one of those giant plastic gerbil balls people use to roll down hills. Would getting run over by one of those feel uncomfortable? Sure. Would the city road crew have to come down and scrape you off the sidewalk? Nah.
In three seasons as the Clippers head coach, Del Negro amassed a win-loss record of 128-102. Considering L.A.’s longstanding status as an NBA laughingstock, that’s pretty darn good.
But with a team built around the superstar stylings of Paul and Blake Griffin—to say nothing of its increasingly potent supporting cast—good simply wasn’t good enough.
Enter Doc Rivers, whose unquestioned coaching chops have paid immediate and lasting dividends for the traditionally moribund franchise.
Back in February, Bleacher Report’s Oren Friedman underscored just how valuable Doc’s playoff experience—the science of X's and O's, the psychology of Jims and Joes—will be to a franchise looking to steal its first championship:
Lob City needs a confident commander, fluid with his X's and O's and upfront in his decision-making process. Paul needs a coach he can lean on and Jordan needs the trust of the man holding the clipboard. With Rivers at the helm, the Clips should not expect to go easily in the postseason. Clipper Nation should be confident that Rivers’ ability to mange his players and develop key schemes in game-to-game adjustments should be pivotal, once the postseason begins.
It’s an aura that Del Negro, for all his player-friendly strengths, simply didn’t have.
Still, don’t be surprised if another team—one as similarly up-and-coming as the Clips once were—takes a flier on Del Negro this offseason.
As for the Clippers, well, we’re pretty sure Doc isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.