Is it time for the Clippers to seek a new GM and ask Doc Rivers to give up his President of Basketball Operations position?
Doc Rivers the GM has cast a dark shadow over Doc Rivers the coach since he was hired by the Clippers back in 2013. Rivers hasn’t shown that he can handle the duties of coach and President of Basketball Operations in the past couple of seasons. Don’t get me wrong, the Clippers have been a much better team with Doc at the helm, but Rivers has failed to make the moves needed to push them to the next level. Rivers is still one of the better coaches in the league but with the team coming to a major crossroad at the end of the season, it may be time for them to bring someone else in at GM. Let’s break down the different aspects of Doc’s GM performance in the past years.
Free agent Acquisitions:
Since coming to Los Angeles, Rivers has opted to surround his stars with veteran players with the majority being on the downside of their careers. Look at how many players that Doc has brought in as free agents in the four off-seasons he’s been GM that are now either retired or out of the league.
Byron Mullins: signed as a free agent in 2013, now playing in the United Arab Emirates; Stephen Jackson: signed as free agent in 2013, retired after 2014 season; Glen “Big Baby” Davis: signed as free agent, currently trying to become a movie director; Danny Granger: signed as a free agent in 2014, now an analyst for CBS Sports; Epke Udoh: signed as free agent in 2014, now playing in Turkish Basketball Super League; Hedo Turkoglu: signed as free agent in 2014, retired after 2015 season; Josh Smith: signed in 2016 as free agent, now playing in the Chinese Basketball Association; Pablo Prigioni: signed in 2015, retired in 2017; and Paul Pierce can be added to this list after his incoming retirement at the end of this season.
Now let’s look at the younger players that Doc has brought in as free agents during his tenure as Clippers GM.
Darren Collison: signed as free agent in 2013, was an excellent backup to Chris Paul but left in free agency for more money; Wesley Johnson: signed as free agent in 2015, now stuck behind Paul Pierce in the bench rotation; and Luc Mbah a Moute: signed in 2015, still a bit of an offensive liability.
Since he came to the Clippers, the team has had two huge problems that Doc has failed to fix. The starting small forward spot has been a gaping hole in the team for years and Rivers hasn’t been able to bring in any free agents that patched that hole up. Johnson doesn’t play to his potential or else he could probably be a serviceable starter and Mbah a Moute is great on defense and even though he is showing some improvement on offense, he still isn’t the shooter the Clippers need at the small forward spot. It’s not completely Doc’s fault that he hasn’t been able to bring a solid small forward in since the Clippers do have so much money going to the core four.
The second problem, as shown by his free agency signings, has been the Clipper’s bench unit. Filling up your bench with players on the downside of their career is a recipe for disaster that had haunted the team for the past few seasons. However, Doc did manage to solve the bench issue with a strong 2016 off-season that brought in Raymond Felton, Brandon Bass, and Marreese Speights.
Doc has made two good trades as GM of the Clippers since 2013. The first was his very first trade as Clippers GM when he flipped an aging Caron Butler and Eric Bledsoe, who would soon demand big money in free agency, along with a second-round pick for J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley. Dudley may not have panned out for Los Angeles, but Redick has become an integral part of the team with the sharpshooting that he brings. The second good trade that Doc made was one that was ridiculed relentlessly and didn’t really pan out til this season. When Doc traded for his son Austin Rivers in 2015, NBA fans went rabid and lamented Doc, claiming he was only trading for his son to save his NBA career. Maybe that was the reason for the trade at the time, but Austin has shown significant improvements since coming to the Clippers and is the only proved young talent the team has at this point.
The reason that Austin is the only proved young talent we have on the team (I’m high on Diamond Stone and Bryce Johnson but it’s too early to tell for either player) is because Doc has chosen to sacrifice long-term success for short-term boosts. The team lost their 2015 first-round pick just to be able to sign Doc and then he proceeded to trade the team’s 2017 first round pick to the Bucks along with Jared Dudley for almost nothing in return. The team’s 2017 second-round pick was traded to Boston to get Austin and the team’s 2019 first-round pick was traded to the Grizzlies last season for Jeff Green, who ended up leaving in free agency at the season.
The only reason that we still have our 2018 first-round pick is because of the Simien Rule, which prevents a team from trading first round draft picks away in consecutive years, because I’m sure that if that rule didn’t exist, Doc would have traded it away by now. I understand that Doc had little options and was forced to trade the picks because the team has limited cap space to work with, but at what cost? If disaster strikes and the team blows up in the next few seasons, the Clippers are without the picks and young talent needed to rebuild the franchise.
The Clippers haven’t had many draft picks to work with in the past couple of seasons as I talked about before, but the few picks that they were able to draft missed the mark by a mile and Doc has certainly had a voice in the decisions on who to draft as a GM and as a coach. All the way back in 2013, the Clippers were in need of a small forward and even though the first round pick the team had wasn’t too high, it would have made sense for them to look for a player that could develop into their starting small forward in the coming seasons. Instead, they opted to draft Reggie Bullock, a shooting guard out of UNC, with the 25th pick after his junior season. This would’ve been a great pick for the Clippers if they hadn’t traded for J.J. Redick, who would obviously become the starting shooting guard, two weeks after the draft.
Hindsight is 20/20, but they passed over players who could’ve developed into a serviceable small forward for the team such as Andre Roberson (the 26th pick), Allen Crabbe (the 31st pick), and Robert Covington (undrafted). Rudy Gobert was also drafted with the pick 25th directly after Bullock and is now one of the best centers in the league. Bullock played in 68 games for the Clippers, averaging 2.6 points before being traded to the Suns in the Austin Rivers trade.
In 2014, Los Angeles was in the same situation as the previous year. The hole at small forward was still there and the Clipper had another late first-rounder that they could use to try and find a player to patch that hole. Once again, they went with a shooting guard, this time drafting CJ Wilcox out of Washington with the 28th pick. Wilcox, who was 23 when the Clippers drafted him, would’ve made sense if the team didn’t have two quality shooting guards in Redick and Crawford and didn’t need a small forward. Once again, hindsight is 20/20 but the team passed on players such as Kyle Anderson (the 30th pick), Jerami Grant (the 39th pick) and Glenn Robinson III (the 40th pick) who are all solid role players on their respective teams. Wilcox appeared in 44 games for the Clippers, averaging 2.5 points before being traded to the Magic in 2016 for a future second-round pick.
In the most recent draft, the team made slightly better picks. The team didn’t try and find a small forward in the draft, which most fans wanted them to do and instead drafted two big men. The team took Brice Johnson from UNC with the 25th pick and Chuck Diallo with the 33rd pick. Diallo would end up being traded to the Pelicans for the 39th and 40th picks which the Clippers used to draft David Michineau (a draft and stash point guard) and Maryland center Diamond Stone. Johnson missed the majority of the current season with a herniated disk in his back and Stone has shown untapped potential in a few D-League stints but neither has been able to work their way into the rotation due to River’s reluctance to play rookies. The jury is still out on the two rookies, but the Clippers passed on players such as Malcolm Brogdon (the 36th pick) and Patrick McCaw (the 38th pick who would’ve been perfect for the Clippers).
Like I said in the opening paragraph, Doc is a great coach but shoots himself in the foot as a GM. Coach Doc Rivers can only do so much with the players that GM Doc Rivers provides him with and I feel like Rivers has managed to make some nice runs with those players. However, the bad draft picks and the poor trades that Doc made did much more harm to Doc’ reputation as a GM than the recent free agency signings did to save it. With the Clipper’s upcoming crossroads and looming uncertainty, a small shake-up within the organization such as asking Rivers to forfeit his GM title may do the team some good.