Doc Rivers’ departure from the Los Angeles Clippers stunned the NBA on Monday.
The Clippers were fresh off a hugely disappointing end to a season that started with championship expectations. But the decision felt drastic considering Rivers’ reputation as one of basketball’s most respected locker-room leaders.
While some sports partings are more amicable than others, they’re rarely if ever a result of a “mutual” decision, as this one was portrayed. One party sets a separation in motion, and the other doesn’t resist. In this case, the party to prompt the split was Ballmer. And he did so after consulting the team’s two stars.
Steve Ballmer reached out to Clippers stars on Doc
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Ohm Youngmisuk reported Tuesday on Ballmer’s process and the steps that led to Rivers’ departure, which was ultimately sealed when the two sides couldn’t come together on a vision for next season.
One of those steps involved consulting with stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
From the report:
Before a final decision was made, sources said Ballmer called several key players — including George and Leonard — to get their opinions. Nothing the players told him, sources said, changed Ballmer's mind about moving on from Rivers. Ultimately, the decision to part ways with Rivers was Ballmer's.
We might never know what Leonard and George told Ballmer when asked about Rivers. But given the choice as a player to take the responsibility for such a monumental collapse or let the blame lie elsewhere, it’s not hard to imagine neither making an impassioned plea to retain a coach that they had worked with for just one season.
Entering next season with the clean slate of a leadership change and an excised scapegoat makes for a more manageable narrative for a team that fell well short of lofty expectations.
Big stakes for Ballmer
For Ballmer, the stakes are even larger than those for Leonard and George. The Microsoft billionaire bought the franchise with the intent of rewriting decades of ineptitude capped by the ousting of a racist owner.
He mortgaged the future of the franchise to acquire the core built around Leonard and George. Both stars have player options after next season, and the haul of first-round draft picks the Clippers parted with to build this core aren’t coming back.
The Clippers were guaranteed two years to make this happen, with a championship as the only acceptable outcome. For Ballmer, something had to change after the massive disappointment of year one.
Nothing he heard from Leonard or George swayed him from that belief.
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