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Why the Los Angeles Clippers Should Have Passed on Doc Rivers

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Why the Los Angeles Clippers Should Have Passed on Doc Rivers
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Doc Rivers.

COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Clippers hired head coach Doc Rivers to much fanfare over the offseason, but is Rivers worth everything the Clippers gave up for him?

In exchange for letting Doc out of his contract early, the Boston Celtics received an unprotected 2015 first-round pick, one that will likely be at the bottom end of the draft board. But this isn't all that Los Angeles gave up.

The opportunity cost of Doc Rivers

After the Clippers and Celtics reached a preliminary agreement on a trade that would have sent Rivers and All-Star Kevin Garnett to the Clippers as a package in exchange for Deandre Jordan and draft picks, NBA commissioner David Stern announced the league would veto such a deal because it was in violation of the collective bargaining agreement made between the National Basketball Players Association and the NBA.

As a result, any trade between Boston and Los Angeles that involved Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers in some kind of a package, even if broken up into two separate deals, would be nixed by the league. This put the Clippers in the difficult situation of having to choose between a deal that could have included Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett or one that included only Doc Rivers.

Rumors had already surfaced that the reason why former Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro was fired was primarily due to keep All-Star point guard Chris Paul happy and to prevent him from walking away from the team as a free agent. This drove the Clippers to determine that bringing in a premier head coach was the highest priority for their team. If it's true that Chris Paul was ready to walk if Doc Rivers wasn't hired, then you could certainly make the argument that doing whatever was necessary to keep Paul was the right move to make.

However, if the Clippers had the option of choosing between Doc Rivers or a package that could include Pierce and Garnett, then the Clippers erred greatly by choosing a high-priced coach in a league where veteran players on the court are more important than the man drawing up the plays.

The value of a coach

By choosing Doc Rivers over the possibility of Garnett and Pierce, Los Angeles showed that it highly overrates the value of a coach. While it's true that coaches can add a lot to a team, the evidence is overwhelming that coaches very rarely are the difference between teams that lose in the first round of the playoffs, like the Clippers did last year, and teams that win NBA championships.

Doc Rivers is a perfect example of why coaches are often not difference-makers. After Rivers' first season with Boston, the Celtics were a very respectable 45-37. Over the next two seasons, however, the team would actually get worse under Rivers each year, going 33-49 in 2005-2006 and 24-58 in 2006-2007. It wasn't until Boston brought in Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett that the team started winning, and, even then, the Celtics never performed as well as they did the first season the "Big Three" were together.

Even going back to his days running the Orlando Magic, where Rivers won NBA Coach of the Year in 1999-2000, the team seemed stuck in the mud over his four-year tenure there, winning between 41 games and 44 games every season. The Magic never seemed to get better and fired Rivers in 2003 after the team started off with a 1-11 record. In short, Rivers won when he had a great roster, did well with a good roster, mediocre with a mediocre roster, and his team performed poorly with a bad roster. Rivers won with winners and lost with losers, but he certainly didn't over-perform or take a team to the next level that didn't already have the talent to get there.

Rivers isn't the only example of this, of course. Larry Brown, a Hall of Fame coach, left the 2004-2005 Detroit Pistons after going to the NBA Finals to take the helm of the New York Knicks the following season, and he won only 23 games. Brown then left the Knicks immediately and took over the Charlotte Bobcats, where he went 79-85 over the next two seasons before being fired in the middle of the season after starting the year with a 9-19 record. Even the Hall of Famer Brown couldn't win unless he had great talent.

Then there is the case of the Clippers' own former coach, Vinny Del Negro, who progressively improved the team each season he was in Los Angeles, getting fired after winning 56 games. I agree that Rivers is a better coach than Del Negro, but how much better could he really be than a guy who won 68% of the games he coached in 2012-2013? Rivers will make the Clippers better, but he won't make them a championship team.

Why the Clippers should have traded for Pierce and Garnett instead

Pierce and Garnett would have been bigger additions to the Clippers and would have made them championship contenders immediately. If Los Angeles did make a deal with the Celtics for Garnett and Pierce, it probably would have involved two first-round picks, Deandre Jordan and Caron Butler. Other players may also have been needed in the deal to resolve salary cap issues, but those four players in addition to the picks would have likely been the central part of the deal.

If the Clippers had made this deal instead of getting Rivers, they would have ended up with a legitimate perimeter scorer who is not only a shooting threat, but who is also a guy who can still get to the basket when he needs to. They would also have benefited greatly from Garnett's leadership, especially on the defensive end of the floor. The combination of Garnett, Pierce, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul would have been downright scary when the playoffs start, and I doubt very highly that they would have lost a step by hiring a guy like Brian Shaw, now head coach of the Denver Nuggets, instead of Rivers.

Clippers fans who support the Rivers move often argue that because Pierce and Garnett are older players with only two or three seasons left, it didn't make sense for the Clippers to give up young talent and draft picks to get them. But when you think about it, the Clippers did end up trading away young guard Eric Bledsoe, veteran Caron Butler, a first-round pick and a second-round pick to end up with Doc Rivers, J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley.

So which team is better? A team with Doc Rivers, J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley or one with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and a coach like Brian Shaw? Come playoff time, I think the Clippers will be suffering from heavy dose of regret.

Don't agree with me? Tell me why I am wrong on Twitter @TheNewRevere or by e-mail at THATcelticsguy@gmail.com.

Justin Haskins is a New England native and a freelance journalist. He has been obsessively following the NBA and Boston professional sports for 10 years and has been published in numerous online publications and websites.

Statistics provided by Basketball-reference.com and NBA.com.

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