To say this season was a disappointing one for the Clippers would be a huge understatement. Shooting guard Lou Williams even said in his post-game press conference after the Game 7 loss to Denver – “we’re pissed off”.
After convincing superstar forward Kawhi Leonard to sign with them last offseason and the also acquiring MVP candidate Paul George, expectations were high coming into the season for the Clippers. However, in very much Clippers fashion these expectations were not met. They blew a 3-1 lead in the second round of the Playoffs, there is now tension between the players according to multiple reports and the search for a new head coach is officially under way after Doc Rivers was relived of his duties on Monday. This offseason is going to crucial as we enter what is arguably the most important season in Clippers’ Franchise history.
There are many problems that need to be looked at this offseason but the immediate one if finding a new head coach. On Monday 28th September the Clippers fired Head Coach, Doc Rivers after 7 years in charge and the news came as a surprise to many. Clippers’ owner, Steve Ballmer released a statement the day after saying: “Doc has been a terrific coach for the Clippers, an incredible ambassador, and a pillar of strength during tumultuous times. He won a heck of a lot of games and laid a foundation for this franchise. I am immeasurably grateful to Doc for his commitment and contribution to the Clippers and the city of Los Angeles”.
Doc wasn’t on the open market for long, as he has signed a deal to become the new Head Coach of the Philadelphia 76ers according to ESPN.
It’s fair to say that Doc Rivers is the most successful coach in Clippers’ history. He had a winning record every season he was in charge and missed the playoffs only once. However, the knock-on Doc is the fact that he has never taken the Clippers into the Western Conference Finals and has blown multiple 3-1 leads. Once against the Houston Rockets in 2015 and again this season against the Denver Nuggets. The Clippers and specifically Steve Ballmer obviously felt like the Doc Rivers era in Los Angeles had run its course.
The question now however is who will be the new man in charge?
According to ESPN Senior NBA Insider, Adrian Wojnarowski that decision is expected to be made soon. Woj said: “The Clippers are expected to begin meeting with coaching candidates soon – and Tyronn Lue will be prominent in that search to replace Doc Rivers”.
The Clippers will have to move quickly if they want to get a deal done as it is believed that the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Pelicans also have interest in Lue. The former Cleveland Cavaliers Championship winning head coach was an assistant for the Clippers this past season, so he already knows the players on the roster and has relationships with them. The Clippers don’t really have time to hire a coach who will take a while to bed in. They are in win now mode, so Tyronn Lue looks like the most logical person to hire out of all the candidates.
We know that there will be someone new coaching this team next season, but we also know that there will be players being replaced on this roster. According to many reports, the only untouchable player this season on the Clippers roster is Kawhi Leonard. The 2-time finals MVP signed for the Clippers last offseason from the Toronto Raptors. Although Leonard can become an unrestricted free agent next offseason the Clippers have no intention of trading away their face of the franchise.
The player who is in limbo however is Paul George. The Clippers acquired George last offseason in a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder. In exchange LA sent rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, veteran forward Danilo Gallinari, 5 first round draft picks and 2 draft pick swaps. It was a massive trade that sent shockwaves across the NBA and saw the Clippers as the early favourites to win the NBA Championship. As we look back on this trade a year later, its fair to say Oklahoma City will be the happier of the two franchises. The Clippers pretty much mortgaged their entire future on George, and they didn’t even make the Western Conference Finals. Many pundits and insiders said the trade had to be made though, because Kawhi Leonard reportedly stated he would not sign with the Clippers unless Paul George was acquired. Even then though, this trade still looks bad for the Clippers because Paul George just simply was not good enough in the Playoffs especially in game 7 against the Nuggets when he scored a mere 10 points on route to a 104-89 loss.
George’s poor play in the post season has sparked a very interesting question: Will Paul George get traded for the 2nd time in just over a year? This comes after a report that said apparently Paul George is not respected among his Clippers teammates. ESPN NBA analyst, Chris Broussard went on to say; “I’ve been told some of the Clippers role players actually think they’re as good as Paul George. They’re having problems with the special treatment he’s gotten from Doc Rivers (now former head coach). They can handle Kawhi getting special treatment because for the most part he delivered”. There is a legitimate argument that the Clippers should trade Paul George if they get the right offer from another team. The big question is Kawhi Leonard on board with it? If he is then there is a possibility George could be traded. If Kawhi wants to keep George for at least one more year, then the Clippers should approach the situation. The last thing you want to do is upset your apparent face of the franchise when he can opt out and leave next year. In terms of other free agent targets the Clippers are expected to pursue a playmaking point guard and a center as they could lose unrestricted free agent Montrezl Harrell. If the Clippers know that they are going to lose Harrell they could explore a sign and trade to get something back for him in return.
Whatever happens its going to be an interesting offseason for the Clippers. Soon we will find out what changes have been made to the team in terms of the roster but very soon we will find out who the next Head Coach is. Will the Clippers finally get over the hump in 2021?