September 29, 2020, 1:51 am
Usually we don’t have a ton to talk about on non-game days, especially this deep in the playoffs when there’s only two teams left and everyone else is supposed to be holed up safe at home. Today was not one of those usual days, however, so let’s take a second to run through some of the talk of the day.
New Captain for the Clippers
For all the talk of teams taking these pandemic results with a grain of salt given the unique circumstances that have likely prevented players and teams from hitting their highest level, the coaching carousel just won’t stop spinning. Doc Rivers was the latest coach to be sent packing and his dismissal might be the most surprising yet — he’s probably right up there with Nate McMillan in terms of initial shock.
There’s no doubt that the Clippers underachieved given their talent level and all the expectations that were heaped upon them, but Rivers was declared safe almost immediately after LA was bounced by the Nuggets. After all, Rivers’ presence was allegedly one of the things that drew Kawhi Leonard to the team in free agency. Even though he dropped another 3-1 series lead, Rivers appeared safe. The Clippers didn’t move heaven and earth to get Kawhi only to fire the guy he wanted to work with, again, amidst some very unique circumstances. A second-round ouster was an embarrassment for the franchise, and Steve Ballmer’s deep pockets will allow the team to get anyone they want in the building for an interview.
Given that Leonard’s decision was clearly never about the basketball side of things, you’d think that the organization has a little leeway here. And yet, the Clippers cast Rivers aside, knowing how important next season will be for the long-term fate of the franchise. Both Kawhi and Paul George can opt out of their respective deals and another disappointment could persuade the star duo to split. George has never been shy about hitting the road while Leonard knows what top-flight franchises look like; how they operate, how they run and how they win. A max contract is coming from someone, and if he starts to think that living close to home isn’t all it was cracked up to be, the Clippers could be in danger.
This also makes George’s comments about last year not being a title-or-bust season look extra foolish — is there any way that PG hasn’t screwed something up for the Rivers family yet?
The Clippers never seemed to coalesce, constantly topping out as less than the sum of their collective parts. Some of that may fall on Rivers as the tone-setter but most fingers have been pointed at the players. After years of being the top player for well-oiled machines, Leonard took the court with a collection of teammates who either couldn’t or wouldn’t match his intensity or level of play when they needed to lock in. Getting everyone on the same page will be one of the top priorities for whoever the next hire is. Assistant coach Tyronn Lue, a popular name on the interview circuit already, figures to be a strong candidate if the Clippers don’t want to stray far for their next coach. Whoever gets the job will step into a situation with immense pressure, but it is most certainly a desirable spot.
As for Rivers, he should be fine. Despite his noted playoff failings, he is one of the league’s most renowned coaches and will surely land on his feet. The Pelicans are one team rumored to be interested. Expect more names to trickle in soon.
As you probably saw on Twitter, it’s being reported that Victor Oladipo is looking to move on from the Pacers this offseason. Cue up those Lakers photoshops, even though they have nothing to trade. Some of this is being blown out of proportion, but for the sake of clarity here’s the full quote from Jared Weiss in The Athletic:
“Indiana is still home for the Haywards, and with Victor Oladipo looking to move on this offseason, according to sources, and Myles Turner possibly in the same boat, there could be an opportunity for Ainge to move Hayward and the abundance of draft picks in his war chest in a mutually agreeable way.”
As you can gather, that quote came within a discussion about whether the Celtics would entertain trading Gordon Hayward, who is set to opt into his contract for next season. It’s certainly possible that Oladipo does want out of Indiana — he apparently rejected a four-year, $80 million offer at one point — but this could also be the two sides playing media games here. The Pacers may not want to offer up a max deal on a silver platter given Dipo’s injury history and poor play last season, while Oladipo definitely wants more than what’s reportedly been offered. A Hayward-Oladipo framework makes some sense if the Pacers know that Oladipo is a goner and Hayward would be willing to re-sign. Moreover, the Pacers are holding the cards here. Oladipo’s still under contract for next season and they can take their time if a trade is truly how this relationship has to end. It’s probably prudent, as moving him now would be selling low, and the Pacers can still reshape their roster (including the coach spot) in ways that might convince Oladipo to stick around.
For now, this is all talk, but it does give us something to think about in the dog days.
More interesting might be the mention of Turner, as he hasn’t had the same public contract discussions that Oladipo has. It’s been an up-and-down run in Indiana but Turner’s tenure has featured far more good than bad. Perhaps he isn’t a fan of his new role now that Domantas Sabonis has emerged as an All-Star caliber player. Maybe it’s just time to move on, and for the Pacers to retool given their lack of playoff success. A realistic appraisal of the roster would likely lead them to the conclusion that the current core just isn’t one that can compete for a championship unless a couple players (Turner and Oladipo included) take another step in their development. They’re not a dead-end team, however. The Pacers have some very talented players that other teams would definitely want, so there’s a few ways for them to play their hand.
Hungry Like the Wolves
Elsewhere in the rumor mill, over at Bleacher Report it’s said that the Wolves are “confused” by the upcoming draft class and will likely try and trade their No. 1 pick. The wording might be a bit harsh but a trade doesn’t seem like a bad idea. This class has no clear-cut top pick, and many of the names at the top don’t make for great fits next to the ball-dominant, offense-only duo of Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell.
The article also included the statement, from an anonymous Western Conference executive, that the Wolves are sweating after “messing up last year by trading for Jarrett Culver.” It’s a little early to make that call, even if Culver struggled to find his footing as a rookie. Minnesota tried him at a number of positions, including point guard, but none of them really stuck. All of last season’s upheaval and Towns’ absences make it tough to take seriously as a great environment for development, but it is a little concerning that Culver was so easily surpassed by mid-season acquisitions Malik Beasley, Juancho Hernangomez and James Johnson. Still, a young player of his talent should have the benefit of the doubt.
As for the pick, the Wolves are likely trying to package it up for a third star. Should that fail to materialize (which is likely given that other teams are probably feeling similarly about the draft), a trade down in the draft would be the goal. That would give Minnesota a shot at a player who’s a better fit while also adding additional futures, which seems like a better play. The jury’s out on a Towns-Russell pairing and flexibility would allow the team to nimbly address their shortcomings rather than trying to shoehorn a third star into the mix. Whatever happens with that pick, the Wolves better be targeting some guys who can defend.
The Finals go on Wednesday so we should have another day or two of off-court chatter to keep us busy.