Clippers owner Steve Ballmer wasn’t happy with the version of the team he saw in Orlando, but he didn’t want to rush into a coaching change, writes Mark Medina of USA Today.
Ballmer waited nearly two weeks after the Clippers were eliminated by Denver, blowing a 3-1 lead in the process, before deciding to replace Doc Rivers, who had coached the team for the past six years. Ballmer called Rivers “a fantastic championship coach” and “a mentor” and said he never would have considered the move prior to the team’s performance at Disney World.
“It’s very important to me that we not do anything in the heat of the moment,” Ballmer told reporters today in a conference call. “That’s not rational, like, ‘Oh, we lost a game.’ That’s not sane. We took our time. Doc and I took our time together and arrived to the point we did.”
The Clippers were considered one of the favorites to win the title after signing signing Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George last summer. They appeared headed for a showdown with the rival Lakers in the conference finals before the series with the Nuggets slipped away.
President of basketball operations Lawrence Frank emphasized that the organization doesn’t hold Rivers solely responsible for the playoff loss, but there was a feeling that a coaching change was needed. Assistant Tyronn Lue was chosen because he is familiar with the roster and he has already succeeded in a similar situation, taking over for David Blatt in Cleveland and leading the Cavaliers to the 2016 title.
“We’re talking about chemistry and continuity, and it’s not more so off the court and guys not liking each other,” Lue said. “It was hard to get continuity and chemistry throughout the season because we didn’t have a lot of practice time for our starting unit or our whole team for a large part of the season. When we talk about chemistry and continuity, it’s more so on the basketball court of just being familiar with guys.”
Even though the Clippers managed to claim the second seed in the West at 49-23, they dealt with injuries and other distractions all season long. They had a combined 114 games missed due to injuries and used 33 different starting lineups. Leonard sat for 13 games with left knee issues, and George missed 16 games after having offseason surgery on both shoulders.
The regular lineup wasn’t together enough in Orlando to develop any sort of comfort. Lou Williams left the Disney campus for a funeral, then had to quarantine for 10 days after stopping for food at a strip club in Atlanta. Montrezl Harrell missed all eight seeding games after the death of his grandmother, and Patrick Beverley was sidelined for four games with an injury.
Lue said he spoke to Leonard and George after his hiring was announced about his expectations for next season. He admits the team needs to play at a faster pace and do a better job with ball movement and floor spacing. He welcomes the opportunity to be a head coach again and believes there’s enough talent on hand to make a run at the 2021 championship.