Blame him for the failure of two major off-season moves or credit him with a good recovery but either way, Clippers Coach and de facto general manager Doc Rivers is learning how to change on the fly.
When it became painfully clear Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith were bad fits, Rivers reversed course and not only saved face but saved some money. Smith was shipped back to Houston for the rights to Maarty Leunen, who probably will never wear a Clippers uniform, but the real gain is a savings of more than $1 million in luxury tax. Stephenson was sent to Memphis with a protected first-round pick for Jeff Green, who is still adjusting to new schemes and all their nuances.
Giving Coach Doc Rivers an effective bench has been a challenge for President of Basketball Operations Doc Rivers. It’s still early days for Green, who had six points, five rebounds and three blocks Wednesday in his third game, an 87-81 loss to Denver at Staples Center in a flat, three-point-flinging team effort. But if Rivers got it right with Green, the Clippers will be a significant step closer to having the reserve depth they’ve lacked once they get past ageless wonder Jamal Crawford, who contributed 20 of their 33 bench points Wednesday.
“I like our bench. And I think Jeff has a chance to really help us in multiple ways,” Rivers said, noting that the 6-foot-9 Green can play small forward and provide size alongside Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. “That’s a large lineup,” Rivers said.
Rivers also can use Green at power forward and go small. “I just think it makes us more versatile,” Rivers said. “We don’t have a lot of time to implement it. That’s the only downside to it, but I do think it could be something that serves us well.”
Griffin remains out because of his partially torn quadriceps tendon suffered in December and the broken right hand he sustained in a foolish fight in January with assistant equipment manager Matias Testi, and Rivers said he has no timetable for Griffin’s return. And when Griffin is medically cleared, he will have to serve a team-imposed four-game suspension, meaning the Clippers won’t get much time before the playoffs to put all their pieces together and be sure the fit is right this time.
Rivers said before Wednesday’s game he hopes he will have more than a week or two to prepare. But that might be the best-case scenario. “We may have to practice more than usual,” he said, hardly welcome news for players near the end of a season. “We’re going to have to do something if it’s that late, that’s for sure, because teams are sharp going into the playoffs and we want to be sharp.”
Green expects a long playoff run with Griffin back in the lineup. “The sky’s the limit for this team. When he gets back, the rhythm, the flow, and everything gets back in order, it’s going to be great,” Green said. “I think we’re going to be one of the top teams to come out of the West.”
The San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors will have a lot to say about that.
“But to be the best you’ve got to beat the best,” Green said, “and I think everybody is looking forward to it.”
Finding his footing, he said, might require some patience. “These things take time, but so far the time I’ve been here has been great,” he said. “It’s been a learning process.”
Time is a luxury the Clippers don’t have, either in the short term or beyond their immediate concerns. Chris Paul will be 31 in May. Griffin will be 27 next month; contrast that to the Warriors, whose best players are younger: Stephen Curry will be 28 next month and Klay Thompson turned 26 earlier this month.
Remember, the Clippers were the last team to beat the Warriors in the playoffs, a seven-game, first-round triumph in 2013-14. Since then the Warriors have soared, winning the championship last season and cruising to a likely repeat. Since then, the Clippers have run into their old second-round stop sign twice, though they beat the then-defending champion Spurs in the first round last spring before squandering a 3-1 series lead over Houston.
The Clippers’ window is now and maybe next season. If they can’t get it done, there will be more changes, and not just on the fly.
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