For a little while there, it appeared that Doc Rivers had it all in his new gig with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The former Celtics head coach passed on another daunting rebuild in Boston this summer to move on to the bright lights of LA.
"I didn't do anything wrong,” Rivers said of leaving Boston for the Clippers during his return to the TD Garden in December. “I decided to leave at some point. It should be all good. I had a good, wonderful time here. I have nothing but good things to say [about Boston].”
Rivers couldn’t be faulted for wanting to leave, and the reasons he gave for his departure were understandable. The main problem some people had was the way in which Rivers left town. For most of the summer, Rivers stated publicly that the Celtics were on board with his departure, knowing full well that the team would have preferred that he stayed and honored his contract that lasted through the 2016 season.
Rivers finally owned up to the decision, but the bitterness from that messy departure still resides in some Celtics fans, even if they can admit the reasons why Doc left Boston made plenty of sense.
The Clippers had one of the most talented rosters in the NBA on paper last season and were waiting to take the next step and become a championship contender. Rivers saw himself as the coach that could bring that group together and raise their play collectively.
Doc also received a big title promotion in the new gig, as he was named vice president of basketball operations for the Clippers.
“It’s nice,” Rivers admitted of the new title, “It’s not like I didn’t have [a voice] here [in Boston]. I just wasn’t the voice. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do anytime I wanted to do it.”
Once Doc secured a $7 million dollar per year contract with the Clippers, he appeared to have the perfect balance of what any coach in the NBA would want: money, power, and a chance to contend.
That all changed this weekend, once Sterling’s alleged racist comments were released by TMZ.com. Now, as the Clippers faceoff with the Golden State Warriors in a tight first round series, the dream scenario for Rivers in LA no longer exists with Sterling in the fold.
The head coach, who signed a three-year deal with the Clippers last summer, acknowledged to reporters prior to Game 4 on Sunday that he was uncertain of the future with the team.
“Don’t know yet,” Rivers told reporters in Oakland. “I’m going to leave it at that.”
Rivers, in a refreshing change from some in the NBA world, has not acted shocked by Sterling’s racist comments. His remarks once the Sterling tapes were released over the weekend spoke volumes.
“I don’t know if I’m surprised or not,” Rivers said of the recording. “I didn’t like the comments obviously.”
The ugly truth is that Sterling has a long history of racism, including being sued for racial housing discrimination on multiple occasions. Former general manager Elgin Baylor accused Sterling of a racist attitude in a wrongful termination lawsuit and there are countless other stories from around the league that show Sterling’s bigotry.
Rivers is a smart man. He probably knew all of these things about Sterling when he took the job. He likely hoped that it wouldn’t be an issue for him during the gig. Now, however, Sterling’s racism has moved to the forefront of basketball world and Rivers has to deal with it firsthand as a top Clipper employee.
A brutally tough decision may await Doc after this season ends. Continue to work for an alleged racist owner or sacrifice millions of dollars, your job, and a ideal spot to contend for a championship for the next few years? That’s an incredibly unfair situation for Rivers and the rest of the Clippers organization to be in.
The hope here is that ownership around the league takes Rivers’ conundrum off the table by simply forcing Sterling out of the NBA this summer.
No matter what your opinion is on how Doc left town, no one wants to see the beloved coach have to operate in an environment like this. The NBA should move swiftly to ensure he doesn’t have to for much longer.