Clippers Notes: Rivers, Stephenson, Smith

The specter of the Donald Sterling saga hurt the Clippers in free agency last summer, Doc Rivers says, but after this past offseason, one in which Rivers had owner Steve Ballmer behind him, the onus is on Rivers the coach to deliver on what Rivers the executive set up, writes Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times.

“The first summer was tough. We didn’t have an owner in place. Recruiting was near-impossible,” Rivers said. “You go in and talk to free agents and their agent would say, ‘Well, we don’t even know who’s going to own your team. Why would we commit to you guys?’ That was a hard summer for us.”

Ballmer’s riches didn’t play too much of a role this year, since Paul Pierce taxpayer’s mid-level exception deal was the only outside signing for more than the minimum that salary cap rules allowed the Clippers to make, but Rivers also made noise via trade, as we examine more closely amid the latest on the Clips:

  • Rivers still held out hope that his Spencer Hawes signing from 2014 would pan out and didn’t want to mess with his team’s strong play at the time when he passed on a deal that would have brought in Lance Stephenson midway through last season, according to Dan Woike of the Orange County Register. Rivers ultimately traded Hawes in this summer’s deal for Stephenson.
  • Clippers offseason signee Josh Smith is enthusiastic about what Stephenson can do for the team, calling him a “walking triple-double” who was simply misplaced in Charlotte, as Woike notes in the same piece. “I think it was the wrong fit,” Smith said of Stephenson on the Hornets. “It’s all about a player being comfortable and happy in a situation. Me in Detroit, it was kind of a similar situation. I think he looks at this as a breath of fresh air.”
  • The Clippers were the first team to contact Smith in free agency this summer, and that helped impress upon him that the Clippers wanted him more than the Rockets, who also made an offer, Smith said, according to Rowan Kavner of Persistence from GM Dave Wohl also paid dividends, according to Rivers. “I give Dave credit,” Rivers said. “He didn’t stop. He called every single day, like 21 days in a row. He kept calling, and Josh called Dave and said, ‘I’m coming.’ Then Dave called me. That’s how we got the news. I just think the opportunity, he looked at our team and what we had, and I think that’s what sold him.”
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