Doc Rivers: 2016-17 Clippers were ‘a hard group to like because they didn’t like each other’

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Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN wrote an excellent feature on Doc Rivers and the Clippers. It includes Chris Paul telling Clippers owner Steve Ballmer he left for the Rockets in part due to Rivers. That tidbit, and many others in the story, are attributed to anonymous sources. Arnovitz clearly earned a lot of trust from sources to report out this article. I suggest reading it in full.

But the most interesting statement came on the record from Rivers himself.

Rivers, via Arnovitz:

“I was aloof last year. I didn’t want to be here with these guys,” Rivers says. “I wanted to coach, but this team was a hard team to coach. I’m aloof anyway — I’m an introvert — and it was a hard group to like because they didn’t like each other. For me, you have to want to figure it out. And we lost the ability to want to figure it out.”

J.J. Redick, who left for the 76ers last summer, previously spoke of the Clippers experiencing a loss of joy. He apparently wasn’t the only one to see it. Paul obviously wanted out. Blake Griffin didn’t sound broken up about his trade to the Pistons. And now Rivers is opening up about his disillusionment.

Paul and Griffin clashed numerous times over the years, and that wore down everyone. They tried to work past their differing points of view, and they made progress – but not enough, especially once Austin Rivers entered the picture.

The Clippers’ trade for Doc’s son exacerbated locker-room issues. Austin self-admittedly carries an attitude that doesn’t sit well with everyone. He has developed considerably as a player in L.A., but perceptions of nepotism were inevitable. Favoritism for Austin reportedly led Paul to despise Doc.

Doc, via Arnovitz:

“When you don’t win, then you look for reasons why,” Doc Rivers says. “So first it’s, ‘Blake and Chris don’t get along.’ That was first. Then it was, ‘Doc the GM.’ Then it was, ‘Austin Rivers.’ The question you can ask after the fact is that, ‘Because of the team, was it the right move?’ In retrospect, would I have done it again? ‘I don’t know’ is the answer. But when you look at how he’s playing now versus when we got him, yeah. But I don’t know, because it’s very complicated.”

It shows a lot of introspection on Doc’s part to admit that. He correctly identified Austin’s potential when trading low for him (though misread Reggie Bullock‘s when sending him out in the deal). But it still probably wasn’t worth the trouble. No matter how badly Doc wanted to treat Austin like any other player, the father-son relationship existed. It probably affected both Rivers, at least subconsciously, and it definitely affected everyone else’s perception.

With Paul and Griffin gone, Doc did his best coaching job this season with L.A. He often started players on two-way contracts, and he repeatedly had to juggle his rotation due to injuries.

But he appeared much happier.