We've long been fans of Doc Rivers down here in India for his time with the Boston Celtics. Rivers spent nine long seasons with the NBA's most historic
franchise, coaching the likes of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and a precocious Rajon Rondo to three Eastern Conference finals, two NBA Finals and
one championship ring in 2008. Besides San Antonio's Gregg Popovich, he seems to be the only other coach around the league in charge of his own destiny.
The Los Angeles Clippers certainly bought into Rivers' championship pedigree when they acquired him to coach the franchise with the departure of Vinny Del
Negro. Del Negro may have had his fans, but his inability to take the franchise past the second round of the playoffs in two seasons, including blowing a
2-0 lead against the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2013 postseason, cost him his job. What was particularly worrying was that the Clippers, despite the presence
of the tenacious and gifted Chris Paul, were labeled as a soft team after their loss to the Grizzlies. 'Lob City' looked good for the highlight reels, but
brought with it a soft underbelly that the marauding Grizzlies simply tore apart enroute to a 4-2 win.
Rivers will change that. And he has certainly shown his intentions to do so. The new head coach sent out a strong 'winning mentality' message when he
ordered the Lakers' championship banners and retired jerseys on the Staples Center wall for Clippers home games to be replaced by full length banners of
their current players. "Well, I didn't look at it as the banner thing," Rivers said
of his decision. "I just look at it as putting our guys up… Listen, I think this is our arena when we play. So I just thought it would be good that
we show our guys. No disrespect to them. But when we play, it's the Clippers' arena as far as I know."
Rivers is also bringing some of his famous 'Ubuntu' philosophy from Boston to the Clippers, thereby looking to unite the Clippers' locker room. He has gone
on record to suggest that center DeAndre Jordan will have an increased presence in the fourth quarter this season. Jordan, who, owing to
his poor free-throw shooting, played an average of 1.8 minutes in the fourth quarter in 82 games in 2012-13, has Rivers' backing for a larger role in the
fourth quarter in the coming season.
Speaking before the start of the regular season, at his first Clippers' training camp, Rivers said, "I tend to want to
stay big at the end of games, so he'll [Jordan] be on the floor a lot… I'm looking at DeAndre Jordan as an All-Defense player. I think he should be
on the All-Defense team. I think he should be a candidate to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. And that is going to require consistency for him
to do that. We need him to be the captain of our defense, so I'm putting a lot on his plate. All the other stuff will take care of itself. If he does that
job, I'm not that concerned about everything else."
And Rivers has walked that talk. Although the Clippers have played only four games yet, Jordan is
averaging 34.3 mpg this season to 24.5 mpg from 2012-13.
But there is a lot more work to be done. The Clippers may have notched up two impressive wins against the Warriors and the Houston Rockets
, but their defense has been awful in the first four games. For
a team that had a top-10 defensive rating last season
, the Clippers currently have the worst defensive rating
in the league. In three of their
four games, including their surprise opening night loss to the Lakers, the Clippers have allowed their opponents to score more than 110 points against
Rivers, in charge of player personnel as well with the Clippers, also has to deal with a shorter rotation this season. Through 2012-13, the Clippers'
mostly a 15-man roster, had 11 players who played 60 games or more in an 82-game season. All 11, including Caron Butler, Eric Bledsoe and Lamar Odom,
logged in 10-plus minutes per game. This season, however, Rivers has only a 11-man squad at his disposal and so far only nine of those 11 have played more
than 10 minutes on an average. Moreover, when Paul was injured last season, the Clippers had Bledsoe to provide seamless backup. This year, there is no
such luxury, with Bledsoe having been traded to the Phoenix Suns in the offseason.
Rivers knows the odds he is coaching against. Not just the challenges within his roster, the Western Conference is brimming with teams like San Antonio,
Oklahoma City, Houston and Golden State against which Rivers will have to display his full bag of tricks with the talent at his disposal.
It is why the Clippers are leaning on him.