After days of constant rumors, controversies, will-they/won’t-they prognosticating, and intense league office scrutiny, the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics finally agreed on Sunday to a deal that will send coach Doc Rivers to Los Angeles in exchange for L.A.’s 2015 first-round draft pick. It’s a game-changer for both franchises, and a move whose repercussions will loom large for the 2013-2014 NBA season.
It’s tough to think of two more different teams than the Celtics and Clippers. Boston is perhaps the most storied franchise in basketball, whose resurgence in the last decade has been due in large part to Rivers. The Clippers, meanwhile, are a perpetual laughingstock, victims of the perpetual corner-cutting whims of owner Donald Sterling, and a playoff team only thrice in the last 15 years. However, both teams find themselves in unfamiliar territory. The Celtics failed to advance past the opening round of the playoffs for the first time in six years, losing in six games to the New York Knicks. The Clippers won a division title for the first time in team history (which stretches back to San Diego and Buffalo), and, despite a disappointing first round exit at the hands of the Grizzlies, the eventual Western runners-up, they are by all metrics a team on the rise.
This trade is obviously a bigger deal for Los Angeles, since they’re the team that is getting one of the best coaches in the game. Rivers is a fantastic play-caller out of timeouts and has been a head coach for longer than anyone in the NBA not named Gregg Popovich. Unlike previous Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, who never quite managed to get the respect of his players in the locker room and who couldn’t manage any gaps that sprung up between his players, Rivers has the record and a championship ring to demand respect from a team.
The deal for Rivers will also go a long way to retaining the services of Chris Paul, who acted more like a General Manager than a point guard this offseason, and the firing of Del Negro and acquisition of Rivers are more a product of the Clippers kowtowing to their star’s demands (and impending free agency) than of basketball decisions. That being said, getting Rivers on board is the best outcome for the Clippers, and no matter how shady Paul’s behind-the-scenes maneuvers may have been, they ended with the coach the team needs being brought in. It also puts a lot of pressure on Paul and Blake Griffin. Paul has to do his part to make this transition work, and Griffin needs to take that next step forward in his progression, which he has not done in his first three years. There are a lot of eyes on the Clippers, but Rivers will be able to keep his players on task.
The trade also signals the beginning of a rebuilding era for the Boston Celtics. For the last several seasons, despite their aging core of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, they remained competitive, taking the Heat to seven games in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals in their last true hurrah as a group (Allen left for Miami this past offseason). Rivers’ presence seemed to be the main reason for Pierce and Allen to stick around in Boston and give a championship run one more go. Without him, Pierce could be traded or bought out, and Garnett, despite the protests of the league office, could attempt a trade to the Clippers, where he could aid in the development of both Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. The Celtics are looking at an uncertain few years, with Rajon Rondo being the occasional emotional wildcard that he is, and though they have some young talented players like Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger on the roster, it’s likely that the era of the Celtics being a consistent factor in the East is over.
Doc Rivers’ presence immediately puts the Clippers in the conversation, with the Thunder and Spurs, for best team in the West. While the era of the Celtics is probably drawing to a close, a new one may be opening up in the City of Angels.