- Arash Markazi, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- When Doc Rivers took on the dual role of head coach and president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Clippers last offseason, there was only one blueprint for success he intended on following even if it seemed almost impossible to duplicate.
"Pop and R.C.," Rivers said referring to Spurs head coach and president of basketball Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford. "Clearly you would love to build what they have. It means that you're going to do it for a time. We have a long way to go, but that would be nice."
When Rivers came to Los Angeles nearly two years ago, he did so on a three-year, $21 million deal that made him the head coach and the vice president of basketball operations. After the Donald Sterling fiasco and subsequent sale of the team to Steve Ballmer, Rivers was given a new five-year deal worth more than $50 million and a promotion to president of basketball operations.
Like Popovich in San Antonio, Rivers now wields more power than anyone in the franchise outside of the owner, who is the only one above him in the staff directory and the team's hierarchy. He ultimately has the final say on anything basketball related, but like Popovich, Rivers needed to surround himself with lieutenants he was familiar with to help him with the day-to-day operations.
He turned to long-time assistants Dave Wohl and Kevin Eastman, who both came with Rivers to the Clippers from the Boston Celtics but had different roles last season. Eastman, who was an assistant coach on Rivers' staff, was named vice president of basketball operations. Wohl previously was the director of professional scouting before being named general manager.
Rivers had Buford in mind when he appointed Eastman and Wohl to their roles. Buford was an assistant coach under Larry Brown with the Spurs and the Clippers before being hired by Popovich as the Spurs' head scout. He worked his way up to vice president and assistant general manager to his eventual role as the team's general manager.
"R.C. has done everything that you can do," Rivers said. "I think guys with that kind of experience can help you, and clearly I saw Dave in the same way."
Wohl has known Rivers since Rivers was a college player at Marquette. Wohl was in the car with Rivers and his wife, Kristen, when she was in labor with Austin, who now backs up Clippers point guard Chris Paul. He has been with Rivers at every stop in his coaching career. When Rivers first became a coach in Orlando, Wohl was there from 1999 to 2004, and when Rivers took the job in Boston, Wohl was there to be his assistant again.
This isn't Wohl's first foray in the front office. He was the executive vice president of basketball operations with the Miami Heat from 1995-97 and was also Boston's assistant general manager from 2007-09.
"He's done it all," Rivers said. "There's nothing that Dave hasn't done in this league."
Rivers now wants to keep his newly formed brain trust together long enough so they can attempt to duplicate the same kind of success the Spurs have enjoyed.
"They've had consistency," Rivers said earlier this season. "They've had Pop and they've had R.C. Buford and then they've had Tim Duncan, [Manu] Ginobli and [Tony] Parker. And then what they've done is put the right pieces around them. I think all organizations would like to model theirs. R.C. and Pop and their entire staff does the best job of finding the right guys. Pop always used the line, ‘Over themselves.' He wants guys 'over themselves,' guys who aren't pouting when they're on the bench. Guys, who when they come out, sprint out and are happy.
"They keep finding guys like that. They'll tell you privately they've missed on a couple that could have fit even better but they thought he may not so they passed. They'd rather pass and get that right than take any risk. They've also honestly had pretty good health with Timmy. He's been pretty darn healthy over a long stretch."
Popovich and Buford have also been pretty darn good at picking the right players to fill the holes left by veterans so they can continue to be as good as they've been for so long. Most recently they traded George Hill to the Indiana Pacers on draft night four years ago for Kawhi Leonard, who went on to be named NBA Finals MVP last season.
"I think R.C. Buford knows exactly who will play and who will work with Pop," Rivers said. "Him and Pop have that relationship. They know what works. That's a tough thing to do. Usually the reason it doesn't work is no one is that patient with the coach in organizations. And by the time it starts working, they changed. I've always said the model before that was the Utah Jazz with Jerry Sloan. They did the same thing. Kevin O'Connor and Jerry Sloan were there, and you know what works for that coach and that system."
Popovich isn't much for basking in the glow of compliments from others but said earlier this season he was "flattered" by Rivers using the Spurs as his template for success and said Rivers would do well in his dual role as coach and executive regardless of what blueprint he followed.
"Doc can take over anything and there's going to be a certain perception [change] that takes place," he said. "I don't say that because he's a friend. He's got a heck of a presence, he's highly intelligent, he's incisive, he's got a personality and that pervades whatever situation he might be involved in, whether he's running a bank or an NBA team."
When Doc Rivers took on the dual role of head coach and president of the Clippers, he followed one blueprint for success: the Spurs' way.