The 2018 NBA Playoffs are finally upon us, and the Houston Rockets are probably the favorites so far. All year long, they’ve been shocking the world with their elite level of play.
And for them, it all started with Chris Paul. James Harden is, of course, the number one guy. But CP is the guy who took Houston to the unbelievable level they’re at now. But how exactly did he end up on the Rockets anyway? What made him decided to leave Los Angeles?
Surprisingly, part of the answer involves Doc Rivers. Here’s what CP said to Kevin Arnovitz regarding the reason for his departure from LaLa, and why coach Rivers may be part of the reason for the team’s lack of success:
AFTER PAUL EXITED for Houston, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer reached out to his former point guard. As a relatively new owner, Ballmer wanted to learn from his organization’s mistakes and invited Paul to share his thoughts about the current state of the franchise and, more pointedly, his reasons for leaving. When the two met over breakfast, league sources say, Paul stated that Rivers was one of the contributing factors.
More than half a dozen players from the 2013-14 to 2016-17 Clippers declined to speak on the record about Rivers’ role in the “dynamic,” but a reliable consensus emerged. To a man, they saw a coach who grew frustrated with his inability to manage a complex locker room and who began to act out himself.
Several former Clippers characterized in Rivers a tendency to placate a player by telling him what he wanted to hear, on occasion even criticizing a teammate that player was beefing with. Rivers didn’t account for the fact that players, even ones who aren’t always simpatico, talk among themselves and exchange notes. Though players regard him as reasonably honest in film sessions and on game night, keeping inventory of what their coach said about specific players became a parlor game among those players and their confidants.
Rivers’ salesmanship has long been heralded as a strong suit. “We are all selling our stuff,” he says, “That’s what coaches do. We’ve got to sell what you think is the best way to win.” But even those who admire Rivers’ leadership style recognize his propensity to promise roles to players that don’t materialize.
Indeed, over the course of Rivers’ four years with the 2013-17 core, players came to doubt the sincerity of his comments or stated intentions. Some cited a statement by Rivers to ESPN’s Zach Lowe this past fall that J.J. Redick was “begging” to return to the Clippers, a declaration that rang so false to anyone who knows Redick that there was a collective bewilderment that Rivers would even say it aloud in polite conversation. For several of his players, it was further proof Rivers had a willingness to peddle mistruths in an effort to spin perception to his liking. To them, Rivers had a talented politician’s ability to inspire with rallying cries, but also to fudge the truth for personal expediency in the moment.
More than anything, Clippers players saw him as increasingly aloof as the team’s playoff misfortunes mounted. They saw a coach who was frustrated and disappointed in the emotional makeup of his team and its unwillingness to buy in. He responded by maintaining a greater distance, forgoing necessary conversations and sometimes dispatching assistant coaches to deliver bad news.
Yikes. After trading away some big stars this past season, Doc was about all they had left remaining from their “big-three” days.
But with this news about how poorly things are going for him there, even that could be about to change.