Will Doc Rivers' GM Mistakes Cloud His Role as LA Clippers Coach?

Fred Katz@@FredKatzFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2015

Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers watches from the bench in the first half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. The Pelicans won 108-103. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Associated Press

People are starting to throw dirt at the once squeaky-clean Doc Rivers.

The coach of the Los Angeles Clippers is one of only four current NBA coaches with a title (along with Gregg Popovich, Erik Spoelstra and Rick Carlisle), but ever since becoming his team's de facto general manager (his actual title is President of Basketball Operations), observers of the game have started to notice fatal trends in his executive decisions. 

Rivers' odd choices as a member of the front office have been chronicled time and time again (I wrote about Doc the Coach vs. Doc the Exec here and then again here).

But, you know, everyone likes a good chart: 

Doc Rivers' Questionable Transactions with Clippers
Month, YearTransaction
July, 2013Traded Eric Bledsoe for Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, instead of signing Redick in separate S&T and keeping Bledsoe.
June, 2014Drafted C.J. Wilcox instead of a defensive, larger wing.
July, 2014Signed Spencer Hawes to full mid-level exception, hard-capping team for rest of the year with use of bi-annual exception on Jordan Farmar.
August, 2014Traded Jared Dudley and a first-round pick to create cap room to sign Chris Douglas-Roberts, Ekpe Udoh & Hedo Turkoglu.
January, 2015Waived Jordan Farmar, effectively wasting the bi-annual exception.
January, 2015Traded what few assets and room the Clippers had left for his son, Austin Rivers.

At what point, though, does this progressively odder and odder track record catch up to Doc? When does the guy higher than him (also known as Steve Ballmer) realize something is up with all these moves?

Still, Rivers remains one of the NBA's better coaches because of his locker room chops, his after timeout play calls and the fact that he held together the entire Clippers organization during the Donald Sterling scandal, the most tumultuous period in the team's history (and in this organization, that says a whole lot). 

It's hard to say exactly how much Rivers is involved in the front-office process and if it's taking away from his ability to coach. People have their own theories on if a coach can also double as a de facto general manager, but for the most part, those are all vast generalizations. They may be different jobs, two full-time gigs, but we've also seen it work.

"It's the same thing that Pop does," Rivers said about the San Antonio Spurs legend. "He's done it pretty well for a long time, you know? And [San Antonio Spurs general manager] R.C. Buford, he does a heck of a job."

That said, the argument against letting your coach become your leading man in the front office, a philosophy the Detroit Pistons also subscribe to with Stan Van Gundy, is a strong one. There just aren't enough hours in the day to prepare for your next opponent, watch film, scout upcoming NBA players and then go back and look at guys you haven't played all year to see if any of them are worth acquiring in a trade. 

An executive has to evaluate talent on a daily basis, but Rivers' schedule doesn't necessarily allow him to do that. He has to worry about the team in front of him first. 

Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

Rivers isn't necessarily the one making every decision, but he is the one signing off on them. And because he has to sleep (we assume), it's left to guys like general manager Dave Wohl and vice president of basketball operations Kevin Eastman to start the evaluative process on potential future Clippers.

"This summer, it was busier than usual, because we really didn't have ownership in place," Rivers said of the post-Sterling, pre-Ballmer era, a time when the Clippers were clearly the most chaotic organization in the NBA. "We didn't have a president on the business side, so you have to stick around more. I'm anticipating this summer to be back to normal."

But what is normal for a coach-executive hybrid?

Think about if the Clippers reach their goal and play into June. That leaves Rivers with no more than a week or two to prepare for the NBA draft, to look at college kids and actually form an opinion on someone he deems a good fit for his team. 

He's already failed on at least one pick, possibly two. Reggie Bullock, whom the Clips selected 25th in 2013, sat on the bench for almost his entire year-and-a-half as a Clipper until he was dealt in the Austin Rivers trade just a few weeks ago. 2014 first-rounder C.J. Wilcox, meanwhile, has played only 31 minutes in the entire season and is looking like Bullock 2.0 for the Clips. 

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 3:  Reggie Bullock #25 of the Los Angeles Clippers handles the ball against the Utah Jazz on November 3, 2014 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadin
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

If draft whiffs are happening already, why wouldn't they continue?

"That's why you hire people, and that's what they're doing," Rivers explained as to why splitting the two jobs isn't actually having two full-time positions at the same moment. 

Rivers says he leans on his front office a bunch, but a team needs the person with veto power to be the most educated.

It's not like Doc had no front-office experience coming into L.A. Maybe it wasn't on his official resume, but he was involved with executive decisions during his nine years with the Boston Celtics

"In Boston, it [was] not that big of a difference," Rivers said about his time as just a coach with the Celtics.

"[Celtics general manager] Danny [Ainge] did all the work, and then he'd come to you and say, 'I like this guy, this guy and this guy. Can you watch this amount of film on a guy?' And you pretty much do the same stuff, other than you get to say 'ye' or 'nay.'"

But 'ye or nay' is different.

Final say is everything, because when you aren't necessarily able to scout as much as the rest of your front office, your veto or your push to acquire a generally unwanted player could lead to even more poor decisions.

CHARLES KRUPA/Associated Press

The Clippers front office is a series of curious hires. Rivers immediately got the promotion to president of basketball operations a solid three minutes after Ballmer purchased the Clippers over the summer. Eastman, meanwhile, is a lifelong basketballer, but as a coach, not an exec. So, the guys running basketball ops for the Clips are ones who think like coaches...because that's what they are.

Thinking like a coach isn't an inherently bad trait, but executives have a separate mindset. Players who are "locker room guys," ones with personal vignettes of killing particular teams, tend to matter more to coaches. And the Clippers have managed their roster with that apparent mindset.

How many jokes have we heard about Doc falling in love with Eastern Conference players who were good in 2009? Glen Davis, Danny Granger, Dahntay Jones, Hedo Turkoglu and more have all made their way through the Clippers' revolving door of micro-contracts for veteran guys. None of them has made a substantial, consistent difference.

People love to note Rivers' motor and his apparent competitive spirit from his playing days, a trait which would imply he's not one to relinquish either of these positions, regardless of the results of his decision-making.

Now it's time to get irrationally hypothetical.

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 17: Head Coach Doc Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers talks toa referee during the game against the Sacramento Kings on January 17, 2015 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Let's say the Clippers get bounced in the first round this year. Let's say they re-sign DeAndre Jordan in the offseason but don't fill any of their obvious needs, fail to acquire a wing defender and instead use a few minimum deals to bring in veteran guards to "help" the bench unit.

Let's say all that leads to the team's churning out a similar season in 2015-16, beating up on lesser squads, limping through tougher games with a middle-of-the-pack defense and losing early in the homicidal Western Conference Playoffs once again.

What happens to Doc then? Does Doc the Exec get different treatment than Doc the Coach?

We don't know the state of the team, and we don't know how patient an owner Ballmer will actually become. The dude just spent more than $2 billion on his most prized toy. He may have immediately signed Rivers to a five-year extension, but who knows how he would react to multiple underwhelming seasons?

Again, though, these are hypotheticals. Maybe even ones which probably/possibly won't ever happen.

Doc the Coach is still Doc the Coach. As much as it's starting to become trendy to criticize him, he hasn't been much different than before—judging from the outside, of course. But two full-time jobs would seem to be unmanageable, even for someone as salaried and experienced as Rivers, and so far he hasn't proved capable of doing both.

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade but maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

All quotes obtained firsthand. Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of Feb. 5 and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.


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