Commentary

Doc Rivers' task will change in L.A.

To help take Clippers to next level, new coach will shoulder burden of attention

Updated: June 27, 2013, 1:46 PM ET
By Ramona Shelburne | ESPNLosAngeles.com

PLAYA VISTA, Calif. -- Six years ago they came to him, needing only to be molded and sculpted together. They were older, more accomplished and wiser. Three veterans who had tried to do it on their own for over a decade but had long since realized they were better together.

Doc Rivers had to earn the respect of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce that first season they were together with the Boston Celtics, but once he did, the rest was a whole lot easier than what lies ahead with the Los Angeles Clippers.

"I think the younger guys are harder to mold together," Rivers said Wednesday, after being introduced as the new head coach of the Clippers.

[+] EnlargeDoc Rivers
AP Photo/Nick UtDoc Rivers says it's tougher to mold younger players to a team-first approach because they are still trying to establish themselves and sometimes can be less willing to listen.

"The older guys are already over themselves. They've already made the All-Star teams and have been the stars wherever else they'd been. The only thing they had left was to win a title.

"The young guys still have their whole life ahead of themselves. They haven't established themselves as being the greatest or whatever. So it becomes more difficult because you have to convince them that by winning, all that comes. That's easier said than done. But I'm looking forward to the challenge. I hope I can do it."

So do the Clippers, who have moved heaven and earth over the past month to get Rivers here to coach Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

Rivers has been the Clippers' target almost since their season ended abruptly in such disappointment with a first-round playoff loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

"The media has been aware of this for a week or two, but for us, Doc Rivers was the apple of our eye before we even made a decision to change coaches," Clippers president Andy Roeser said. "We didn't just want the best coach available; we wanted the best coach."

They wanted the best coach because when you get close enough to see the finish line but can't break through that tape, you start getting very real with yourself.

You have to, or else you're doomed to repeat the same mistakes and fall short in the same ways, year after year.

The Clippers have taken a lot of bows the past couple of days for landing a coach of Rivers' ilk. But the bow they're most entitled to take right now is for having the stomach to look at their flashy, talented young team and realize all that talent wasn't going to be enough.

For all the talk of chemistry and camaraderie on last season's 56-win Clippers team, the team simply didn't have a championship culture. The players wanted to. They tried to. But to paraphrase Charles Barkley, a 6-foot-1 point guard can't be the toughest guy on your team, and he definitely can't be seen as the de facto coach, general manager and puppetmaster.

That's not a knock on Paul. He's a born leader, and born leaders step into vacuums when they feel a need.

But for him to grow as a player, he has to be able to focus only on playing. He can't be all things to this franchise. It's not healthy for him, for Griffin or any of the other players on this team.

And that, more than anything, is why they simply had to go and get Rivers.

Not only is he one of the best coaches in the NBA, he's about the only coach the Clippers could get who had the clout and gravitas to get the absolute best out of Paul and Griffin. By adding the title of senior vice president of player personnel to his duties, the Clippers also addressed their sometimes confusing front-office situation, which -- at least publicly -- has lacked a single, commanding voice.

That's not a knock on Roeser or vice president of player personnel Gary Sacks, who have been doing wonderful work without much celebration for a while now, but neither likes to be very public about his business. And sometimes there just needs to be a guy in front of the cameras speaking for the organization.

All of that falls under Rivers' job description now, and it's right up his alley. He might not want to be the center of attention, but he's really good at it, and for $7 million a season, he can smile, tell a few good jokes and be the public face of the franchise the Clippers so clearly need.

Be the shield, not the star.

Be the voice, so Paul and Griffin can focus on the court.

Take the lead, so there's never any question about who is in charge.

That's a very different challenge than what was asked of Rivers in Boston back in 2007. The task then was to fit three future Hall of Famers together, in the right way. To get them to buy into a selfless, team-oriented culture in which they would all be greater than the sum of their parts, while sacrificing some of their individual strengths.

[+] EnlargeDoc Rivers
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesDoc Rivers will be the face of the Clippers' franchise, and that can only help players like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to focus only on what happens on the court.

The thing is, they already wanted to. That was the point of it all. They had tried it on their own and fallen short enough times to know that's how it had to be. None of them had ever won before, and they all learned how together.

Rivers is here now because he did all that. He won, and knows what it takes.

"It is so hard to win. You could put an All-Star team out there and you could lose," said Clippers center Ryan Hollins, who also played for Rivers in Boston. "And that's why you appreciate a guy like Doc.

"He has championships. Let's not dance around that. He's won. He knows the culture you have to create. It's something you have to learn."

As brilliant a player as Paul is, he has never won before or even been past the second round of the playoffs.

But the thing about players like Paul and Griffin is that they're inspired, not threatened, by those who have done what they are dying to do. It's why they gravitate toward other stars in the league who have won championships -- guys like Garnett, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant -- hoping to glean some insight or secret on how to get there themselves someday.

Now, they have a guy like that around every day. A coach to lead them, so they can get back to what they do best.

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