Quashing the idea of him bolting to the Lakers, Rivers revealed the secret extension he agreed to with Clippers owner Steve Ballmer. Rivers said he had an opportunity to opt out of his deal this summer, but he and Ballmer mutually agreed to remove the clause given the success of this year’s team.
The Clippers (42-30) are vastly exceeding expectations under the tutelage of Rivers, who made it clear he will be manning the head coaching duties for the foreseeable future.
Rivers is making the right call by staying with the Clippers, who are well on their way to securing a playoff berth. They sit in seventh place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, but they are just 2.5 games behind the fourth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers.
In what was supposed to be a rebuilding season, Rivers has guided the franchise into one of the feel-good stories of the year, maintaining success all season even after trading Tobias Harris, LA’s purported best player.
A Coach of the Year candidate, Rivers should have no interest in the Lakers’ coaching job. As we have seen in the past, LeBron James-led teams don’t offer much coaching security. In James’ second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he was calling the shots for the front office by signing off on every single trade or free-agent deal that was made. That power extended to the the Cavs’ coaching as well. David Blatt was fired 1.5 seasons into his head coaching gig with Cleveland, despite leading the team to the Finals in his first season.
James seemed to have full control over Tyronn Lue, Blatt’s replacement, for the remainder of the star’s tenure with the Cavs. James appeared to run the show for every dynamic of the team, leaving Lue all but unrecognized in the background during the team’s many successes and their few failures.
Coaching James, one of the greatest players ever, is not an easy task, and Rivers is wise to not leave the good situation he has with the Clippers. Not only are the Clippers stocked with promising young players such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Montrezl Harrell and Landry Shamet, plus polished veterans like Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari, the team has ample cap space for the upcoming summer.
The Clippers are projected to have anywhere from $54 million to $75 million in cap space this offseason. This will allow them to target the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler in free agency. Leonard will be the preferred target, as reports emerged before the season suggesting that the Clippers are the front-runner to sign the two-time Defensive Player of the Year. The New York Times’ Marc Stein said on ESPN Radio last month that the Clippers are “confident” in their chances of signing Leonard this summer.
Leonard may not be interested in leaving the Toronto Raptors, a serious threat to reach the NBA Finals, but if he were to bolt town, it seems likely it would be for the Clippers.
Since being relieved of his front-office duties in 2017, Rivers has coached just about as well as anyone in the league over the past two seasons. The franchise is in good hands with Jerry West as the team’s executive. West has done a terrific job of clearing cap space for the future, while also maintaining a competitive product on the court in the meantime.
On the other hand, the Lakers have not been able to emulate the Clippers’ success. Despite adding James in the offseason, the Lakers are set to miss the playoffs for the sixth straight year. To compound matters, they traded away rising star D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets in a financially motivated deal, only to see the guard they drafted second overall in 2015 become an All-Star this season. They also let Julius Randle walk in free agency to maintain cap flexibility for the future. Randle has thrived with the New Orleans Pelicans, emerging as one of the league’s most improved players of 2018-19.
As if seeing their former players who they drafted succeed elsewhere wasn’t bad enough, the Lakers’ current young core now has myriad issues. After the Lakers were unable to trade for star big man Anthony Davis, the team camaraderie dissipated as the team went into free fall and fell out of contention in the playoff chase. Two of the Lakers’ young core players and arguably their biggest trade chips in Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball have been ruled out for the remainder of the season.
Ingram is dealing with blood clots, having been diagnosed with Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) in his right shoulder. This could be a serious detriment to the remainder of his career, and as a result, has lowered his trade value. Ingram finished this season averaging 18.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.
Ball has not played since mid-January after suffering a Grade 3 ankle sprain. He averaged 9.9 points and 5.4 assists per game this season and shot 40.6 percent from the field and 32.9 percent from 3. Ball will have played in just 99 out of a possible 164 games once this season is over.
To make matters worse, the Pelicans are reportedly unhappy with how the Lakers handled the trade negotiations for Davis. According to ESPN’s Marc J. Spears, there is “no way” the Pelicans deal Davis to the Lakers in the offseason:
Rivers is wise to steer clear of the Lakers’ mess. And with the Clippers on the rise and stocked with financial flexibility moving forward, it’s no wonder he cleared the air and squashed the notion of him abandoning ship.