It’s safe to say that the 2020 NBA season didn’t go how the LA Clippers drew it up. On paper, the club expected to be challenging for the title; now, they’re sitting at home, have fired their head coach, and are watching the Lakers get even closer to another championship. The Clippers’ problems, however, can’t be entirely solved by replacing Doc Rivers.
No matter who is sitting on the LA Clippers bench next season, the club will still be facing one fundamental issue: based on reports, the locker room is apparently a “mess.”
The LA Clippers had high hopes for the 2019-20 campaign
While both teams share a home city and arena, the LA Clippers have struggled to escape from the Lakers’ shadow. The 2019-20 campaign, however, was supposed to be different.
The Clippers made a major splash in free agency, signing Kawhi Leonard to a three-year, $103 million contract; while they had an advantage since the forward wanted to return home to California, the acquisition seemed like a serious statement of intent.
On the same day, the club also traded for Paul George, giving them two of the league’s top two-way players. The statement was clear: the Clippers were serious about winning a championship.
That plan, however, didn’t come to fruition. Due to injuries, Leonard and George didn’t take the floor together until the end of November; a few months later, the NBA season was suspended. While the Clippers entered the playoffs as the number two seed in the Western Conference, they couldn’t get it done. They fell in the second round, bringing the season to a disappointing conclusion.
Doc Rivers paid the price for his team’s playoff failings
When a highly-touted team crashes out of the playoffs, it’s safe to assume that there will be some offseason changes. The LA Clippers are making at least one alteration: on Monday, they parted ways with Doc Rivers.
Some will content that Rivers deserved to go; his team blew another 3-1 series lead, and the coach struggled to find the right rotation to deal with the Denver Nuggets. Others will argue that, given the unique challenges of the 2020 season, there was only so much a coach can do. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, though, that can’t change the bottom line. The Clippers now need a new head coach.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the club is now facing a “challenging coaching search,” as they need to find some to step in and immediately take charge of a win-now team. Even if you accept that Doc Rivers was the problem, LA needs to find a solution.
The Clippers problems might go even deeper into the locker room
In isolation, firing Doc Rivers makes sense; even if you don’t think he was the reason why his team crashed out of the playoffs, it’s tough to defend a coach who failed to close out a 3-1 series lead with a win-now roster. The Clippers’ issues, however, seem to go deeper than their head coach.
Shortly after Rivers’ firing, Ryen Rusillo shared his thoughts on Twitter. “This surprised Doc. From what I’m told he thought he was ok,” Rusillo wrote. “But this locker room was an even bigger mess than I think we realized. Kawhi has never had to be a vocal leader and PG doesn’t have the respect of his teammates.”
While it’s unclear if Rusillo has any inside knowledge on the situation, the Clippers’ in-house issues have been a running storyline all season. In January, for example, Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic made reference to some players feeling like George and Leonard got preferential treatment. After the club’s elimination, Shams Charania, also of The Athletic, reported that Paul George’s postgame message about staying committed was met with “some eye rolls and bewilderment.”
While team chemistry may seem insignificant compared to overall talent, one of a head coach’s main jobs is ensuring that everyone on the team is pulling in the same direction. No matter who takes over the LA Clippers, that will be one of their major challenges heading into the new season.