There were many questions surrounding the Los Angeles Clippers coming into this season. Perhaps the one worth pondering the most was: Why exactly is Doc Rivers still the coach?
The same Doc Rivers who many believe quit on the Boston Celtics in 2013 because he didn’t want to be part of a rebuild is now coaching a former contender who just tore everything down. In fact, he just got an extension shortly after last season ended.
Most would assume that Rivers would have jumped ship shortly after the Clippers lost DeAndre Jordan, killing Lob City entirely. From the horse’s mouth, that apparently wasn’t the case. In fact, if things had stayed the way they were, he may have been the one out the door out of his own volition.
“I needed the change. I wouldn’t have done this with the same group. I wouldn’t be here probably,” Rivers told the Los Angeles Times. “We just needed change. We needed it and we just had to do it. We had to come to the conclusion that we weren’t going to win.”
Even though the Clippers definitely aren’t in the same league as they once were when they had Jordan, Blake Griffin, and Chris Paul, they’ve continued to press forward with a unique combination of both veteran and young talent at their disposal. They may not be used to it, but their 4-3 start has been pretty impressive so far.
In a way, they’re almost the exact opposite of the Lob City era. That era of Clipper basketball will probably go down as one comprised with the one of the most underachieving basketball teams in history – especially for all the talent featured on that roster. The roster that the Clippers currently have doesn’t boast much talent, but it does have guys whose mindset could help the Clippers exceed the mild outside expectations set for this season.
What specifically makes this team “Anti-Lob City?” Multiple factors.
This has been harped on a lot with the Clippers since Jordan skipped town. It’s true that the Clippers technically don’t have anyone on the roster who has made an All-Star team. This is a stark contrast from Lob City when they had three All-Star caliber players on the squad. Keep a few things in mind, though.
1. It’s the Western Conference. It would be next to impossible to make an All-Star team when competing with the likes of LeBron James, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and the starting five of the Golden State Warriors.
2. The Clippers still have guys who can put themselves in consideration for the All-Star team. Tobias Harris is a legitimate scoring threat who has been on a tear since coming to LA, and Danilo Gallinari is a terrific player when he’s on the court. To be fair, that doesn’t happen a lot, but that’s beside the point. Point being, Harris and Gallinari may not be stars by the classic definition, but they need to be taken seriously on the court when you face them.
3. This is a star-driven league, so not having one on your team isn’t a good thing. However, Lob City had stars with definite flaws that could be exploited as players back in their heyday, like Jordan’s porous free-throw shooting or Griffin’s lack of floor spacing (at the time). Having an All-Star definitely gives you an advantage, but teams prepare to stop said star(s). If you don’t have one and use various players for teams to take focus on, it can help make you less predictable. Not having an All-Star is troublesome, but it’s not the worst thing in the world.
Depth and Versatility
This was the Achilles heel of Lob City. Their best supporting cast members were JJ Redick, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes and Austin Rivers. It was solid support, but it proved to not be enough, time and time again. They also had a fair amount of failed experiments, such as Jared Dudley, Spencer Hawes, Lance Stephenson and Paul Pierce. It also hurt that the opponents who beat them in the postseason had role players who played a big hand in their defeat, like Reggie Jackson in Oklahoma City and Josh Smith in Houston.
Now, they have one of the most well-rounded rosters in the league, filled with players who know exactly what their role is. They have reliable scorers in Harris, Gallinari, and Lou Williams. They have pesky defenders in Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverley. They have a steady infusion of youth with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Montrezl Harrell. They have a bruting frontcourt featuring Marcin Gortat and Boban Marjanovic. To top it off, they have plenty of useful wings in Milos Teodosic, Mike Scott and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
Lack of depth and versatility killed Lob City because it badly damaged their stamina when guys like Hawes or Glen Davis proved they couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason. Now, Rivers has so many options that he can throw out basically any lineup he wants. He could feasibly conserve some of his injury-risks such as Gallinari or Beverley so that they’ll be ready for the playoffs, and the team probably wouldn’t skip a beat.
As good as Lob City was, there always seemed to be trouble in paradise. The team was notorious for bickering at each other and crying at referees. Several players have not had the kindest things to say about their time in LA, such as Redick and Dudley. Other former players such as Glen Davis have critiqued teammates and Rivers specifically. You had to know things weren’t going swimmingly when the team basically held Jordan hostage at his own home just to get him to re-sign with the team.
Now, it seems as though the tension has completely evaporated. After saying that he probably wouldn’t be with the team had Lob City remained, Rivers had this to say about the team to the Los Angeles Times.
“This is a fun team to coach,” Rivers said. “This group, they like each other. They compete. They’re extremely competitive, which is my DNA. They take it serious. They work. It’s just a really good group.”
Even if it hasn’t been too long, the team’s unity has shown itself.
The members of Lob City aren’t entirely at fault for how competitive they were. When you’re competing for a title, you do whatever it takes. That probably led to some hurt feelings, but it was all because they knew the opportunity they had. Even if they never really came close to that, Lob City left it all out there on the court.
Even though these Clippers are deeper and are more likable, their chances of making it to the postseason are still not in their favor. Again, the West is just too tough for a team like the Clippers, but a lot can change between now and April.
If they were in the East though, this would be an entirely different story.
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