Draft day became a labor day for the Clippers, who Wednesday made seven personnel decisions and finally traded for a veteran point guard, a move months in the making.
An expected three-way deal with Atlanta and Denver broke down when the Clippers pulled out rather than wait until the draft started at about 4:30 p.m. PDT. So they broke it into pieces: the ninth pick in the draft and second-round choices in 1993 and '94 to the Hawks for point guard Doc Rivers, then Winston Garland to Denver for a No. 2 in either 1996 or '97.
The Clippers, to get Rivers' $1.2-million contract under the salary cap, relinquished the rights to guard Tom Garrick and center Mike Smrek. Garrick, who will be a free agent July 1, has been a defensive spark and a Sports Arena favorite and could have provided backcourt depth had he been retained.
With the first-round pick they retained, No. 22, the Clippers selected LeRon Ellis from Syracuse, by way of Kentucky and Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, and projected him as a backup at center and power forward. From there, they tried to restore some depth to the backcourt by taking Memphis State's Elliot Perry, an exciting 6-footer with goggles and dunking ability, with the 37th pick and chose Miami's Joe Wylie 38th as a small forward.
Hopes for a point guard to unseat Gary Grant came down to Rivers and Boston's Brian Shaw. There were problems with the salary cap and the asking price with the Celtics, so Rivers, on the wish list for months, was acquired. Not without some trying moments, though.
The deal on the table Tuesday night had the Clippers sending Garland and the ninth pick to the Hawks for Rivers, and Atlanta following that by moving Garland and the 15th choice to Denver for Blair Rasmussen. When the Nuggets chose to wait to make sure Georgetown's Dikembe Mutombo was available at No. 4 to replace Rasmussen, the Clippers moved on their own.
"I'm not surprised at all," Rivers said. "As a matter of fact, I had talked myself into looking forward to it. Basketball-wise, it's a great opportunity. The last two or three years, I had good individual years, but the team did not go anywhere. It seemed like I was treading water, team-wise. Now I'm going to the Clippers, and we have plenty of room to grow with a good future."
Rivers has few downsides, the most prominent being that he will be 30 when next season begins. Otherwise, it's a positive because all he cost the Clippers was draft choices, something they had a surplus of and little interest in using.
An eight-year pro from Chicago and Marquette, Rivers is the Hawks' all-time assist leader, a tough defender and a good passer who can break down defensive presses and charge down the lane. The now-former Atlanta team captain, who has five years of playoff experience, also won the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 1990, the league's top honor for community-related activities.
When rumors surfaced of a deal before February's trading deadline, he had little interest in switching teams in mid-stream. But once the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs, Rivers, who played shooting guard for most of 1990-91 while Atlanta turned the point over to rookie Rumeal Robinson and Spud Webb, became more open-minded.
The Clippers are counting on him to be a leader.
"It's a great, great situation," he said. "It's a challenge, but for 1,000 reasons. The Clippers haven't made the playoffs in about 15 years. And I've never played in a city before where there is another team so close competing for attention. We've got to show people there's more to L.A. than the Lakers. We've got to make Arsenio (Hall) stop cracking those jokes about the Clippers."
In return, Rivers is hoping his new team will follow through on Atlanta's intention to renegotiate his contract that has four years remaining. His agent, Steve Kauffman, spoke briefly Wednesday with Clipper officials, who in turn said they are willing to talk about it in the future. But it won't be a high priority, behind signing the rookies and probably even after getting Charles Smith a new contract or extension.
Only an injury or training-camp surprise would keep Rivers out of the starting lineup Nov. 1, which could give the Clippers four new starters from the previous opening night: Rivers and Ron Harper in the backcourt, Danny Manning at forward and Olden Polynice at center. In a draft-happy organization, three--Polynice and the two guards--came via trades.
They may not be finished, either. Point guard having been filled, the Clippers will continue to look for a trade, this time for a backup center with more experience than Ellis, who would prefer to be a forward anyway. If no deal gets done, Ellis will be No. 2 on the depth chart.
Fans watching the draft at the Sports Arena loudly booed the selection of LeRon Ellis, a shock considering he's local and the pick was not a surprise. "That's all right," he said later. "I think it's better to do that than for them (the fans) to get real excited and then be disappointed by a player. I know they'll have a rude awakening soon." Ellis' father, LeRoy, was originally drafted by the Lakers, became a teammate of Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor there and played 14 seasons in the NBA. . . . Stanley Roberts was still on the board when Ellis was selected. With visions of a talented but overweight center who seemed to lack motivation, the Clippers finally decided one go-round with Benoit Benjamin was enough and passed on Roberts, who went next to Orlando.
After all the moves to get Doc Rivers under the salary cap, the Clippers have only about $4,000 remaining, a microscopic amount, before the limit goes up Aug. 1, a jump expected to be in the neighborhood of $800,000. Ellis will get abouts $400,000 of that, the second rounders much of the rest. That means any new deals for Rivers and Charles Smith may be backloaded with big increases in the final years, much like the contracts of Clyde Drexler and Larry Bird. . . . The Clippers still have four first-round picks in each of the next two years, including their own and Cleveland's in 1992, both possible lottery choices in the Shaquille O'Neal derby.
Rivers' Career Statistics
The regular-season statistics for guard Glenn (Doc) Rivers, who was traded Wednesday from the Atlanta Hawks to the Clippers. Rivers played each of his eight NBA seasons with the Hawks.
Season G Ast Avg Pts Avg 1983-84 81 314 3.9 757 9.3 1984-85 69 410 5.9 974 14.1 1985-86 53 443 8.4 612 11.5 1986-87 82 823 10.0 1053 12.8 1987-88 80 747 9.3 1134 14.2 1988-89 76 525 6.9 1032 13.6 1989-90 48 264 5.5 598 12.5 1990-91 79 340 4.3 1197 15.2 Totals 568 3866 6.8 7357 12.9