The Los Angeles Clippers face a pivotal season in 2015-16, both due to the pressure exerted by several big offseason moves and the general feeling that this veteran, familiar group needs to make a serious postseason run in order to justify its reputation and expectations. A roster cannot house Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Paul Pierce, J.J. Redick, and others without a title feeling like a fair goal.
Clippers head coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers apparently feels the same way. In a new feature by Zach Lowe of Grantland, Rivers expressed that the Clippers roster could see major changes if they don't make a run this season:
The Clippers have had three cracks at it with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan all in their primes, and they’re not afraid to admit the fourth could be their last — that another flameout will force them to ask whether the core has grown stale.
“We’re right on the borderline,” Doc Rivers tells Grantland during a long sit-down at his office. “I have no problem saying that. I’m a believer that teams can get stale. After a while, you don’t win. It just doesn’t work. We’re right at the edge. Oklahoma City is on the edge. Memphis, too. We just have to accept it.” [...]
“The championship window in the West is so narrow,” Redick says. “Ours might only be open another couple of years. But you need some breaks. Golden State was the best team in the league, but they also had everything go right for them. They didn’t have one bad break. I don’t have any doubt about the DNA of our team.”
Rivers agrees. “You need luck in the West,” he says. “Look at Golden State. They didn’t have to play us or the Spurs. But that’s also a lesson for us: When you have a chance to close, you have to do it.”
The "luck" talk is curious, because Rivers also said that the Clippers lacked focus in their collapse against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals. It is presumably easier for a team to encounter good fortune when it does not blow a double-digit fourth-quarter lead in a closeout game, but maybe I'm missing something.
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Whatever the case, Rivers's comments on the Clippers stand out in part because he has control over personnel decisions. As general manager, he actually has the power to break up the roster when he deems it suitable. It's not clear if this plan would involve trading a 30-something star like Paul or removing every possible role player, because certain people define rebuilding in different ways. But there's no question that Rivers has the ability to do it.
However, we should not assume that the personnel man is not also acting in his role as head coach. There is a tendency to believe that coaches with dual roles occupy those positions at different times, but there's no reason to think that this statement can't also serve as a motivational tool in the locker room. Rivers is no stranger to such tactics — he has gone so far as to hide money in an opposing locker room and to convince a team that always had one injured starter that no one could beat them when they were fully healthy. Why couldn't the prospect of "one final chance" serve as a rallying cry?
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Of course, Rivers would then have to make some kind of move if the Clippers don't reach those goals in 2015-16. As he has said himself, reaching that goal often depends on a fair amount of good fortune and luck. So what happens if the Clippers suffer an unfortunate injury? Would that require a reloading process? Or would Doc have to admit that this experiment requires a few more tests to reach a clear conclusion? As ever, determining a team's title chances remains an inexact science.
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