Coaches in the NBA either have long, storied careers as leaders of their respective teams, or short, forgettable seasons which fans and players prefer to have as a distant memory. While most players are afforded a certain amount of time, usually a few seasons, to develop and mature, coaches are on an island forced to survive purely on the results they produce. When Doc Rivers arrived in Los Angeles last June, expectations for the already-talented Clippers roster shot through the roof. Nearly 82 games later, Rivers’ impact on the Clippers franchise is measured by wins, and wins only.
17 guys have coached full season w/ Clippers franchise. 2 of them – Doc Rivers and Gene Shue – managed winning records in 1st full season
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 15, 2014
Rivers inherited a team with more than enough talent to succeed at the highest levels of competition. He inherited the Lob City moniker that filled seats, but provided little hope for a deep postseason run. And most importantly, he inherited a roster filled with individuals who have very little to no insight to what a championship-caliber team looks like.
Rivers, who coached the Boston Celtics to a championship in 2008, acknowledged the team’s potential when he first got to L.A. and continues to keep his team’s eyes on the ultimate goal of winning a championship this year.
“We talk about it and I think we should have that urgency, yeah, I believe that,” Rivers said Monday afternoon. “I don’t believe you can win a title thinking about, ‘Well, we’re getting better this year and this is a good year and we’re building and some day we’re going to be good.’ You can’t win that way. So, yeah, we talk about it a lot.”
Ryan Hollins, who played under Rivers in Boston in 2012, noted last July the value Rivers adds to a team by putting “players in situations to be successful.” He has helped Blake Griffin shed the stigma of being just an above-the-rim player, assisting in the growth of one of the most naturally gifted players in the NBA.
Griffin is on par to become the first player since Shaquille O’Neal (2002-2003) to average 24+ points per game, 9+ rebounds per game, 3+ assists per game and shoot 50 percent field goals or better.
“I think we’ve taken a step back in order to take one forward,” Ryan Hollins said last Tuesday morning before practice in an exclusive interview. “We cut out a lot of non-sense, not that we had a lot of non-sense last year, but we’re putting ourselves in more of a playoff execution type of mentality.”
Rivers’ impact on DeAndre Jordan can be argued to be the most valuable influence he has had thus far. By keeping Jordan on the floor for nearly 10 more minutes per game than last season under coach Vinny Del Negro, Rivers not only built a certain level of respect and trust with his defensive captain, but also put Jordan in a position to succeed and do what he does best.
Jordan is a defensive player of the year candidate while leading the league in rebounding (13.7) and field goal percentage (.675). Only Dwight Howard and Wilt Chamberlain have finished a season atop the league in both categories. Jordan became the first player in LAC history (Mar. 27 vs Mavericks) to reach 1,000+ rebounds in a single season.
“Doc knows what it [championship-ready] looks like, whereas the guys on the team maybe didn’t know what that looked like to be winning at that level,” Hollins said. “Doc knows what it looks like, so he’s cutting all of that [unnecessary] stuff out. He’s trimming the fat, in that sense, and it’s made our guys better for it.”
Despite the substantial individual improvements in the regular season, all will be ignored if Rivers cannot lead this roster to a memorable postseason run. In a profession where results are king, Rivers knows his worth will be determined following game number 82.
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