The writing was on the wall for Doc Rivers as a front-office executive in June, when Clippers owner Steve Ballmer hired the well-respected Jerry West away from the Golden State Warriors to become a consultant for the Clippers. The role was reported to be similar to his position with the Warriors, which had West reporting to Golden State's owners, rather than basketball operations personnel. This suggested West would be answering to Ballmer himself, and not Rivers.
The day of reckoning has come for Doc, who, according to an ESPN report on Friday, has been removed from his role as president of basketball operations so that he can fully concentrate on coaching. Adrian Wojnarowski described the move as a way of "freeing" Doc from the tasks expected of a president of basketball operations. It's an apt description: Doc the head coach has been a prisoner of his own personnel moves for years.
“It turns out that running a franchise and coaching are two enormous and different jobs,” Ballmer told ESPN. That’s something of a belated realization. “The notion that one person can fairly focus on them and give them all the attention they need isn’t the case.”
[Cut to Doc solemnly nodding.]
Rivers’s front-office tenure was mired with questionable moves, including signing former Celtics (Paul Pierce, Glen Davis, and Jeff Green, among others) and erratic former Eastern Conference stars (Josh Smith, Lance Stephenson), never finding a competent small forward, and failing to create serviceable depth for a team that had one of the NBA’s best starting lineups. You can’t quantify how much the front-office troubles affected his coaching, but trying to handle both seems like it would dilute both. (Just ask Stan Van Gundy.) Under Rivers’s watch the team began to slowly deteriorate, scarred by untimely injuries and playoff disappointments. Doc’s mismanagement is also likely why Chris Paul wanted to leave for Houston.
One year ago, Lawrence Frank was promoted to handle day-to-day operations, something that also felt long overdue given Doc’s workload. It also hinted toward a day like today, when Doc would finally be relieved of the second job he could never seem to get a handle on. Frank will now be at the helm of the Clippers' basketball operations.
West’s duties as an adviser to Ballmer and the Clippers are still unclear, but the fact that Frank’s front-office experience is still developing could mean that West's presence may loom greater than his advisory role suggests. This is what the Clippers need; this is what the Clippers have needed for a long time.
Without Chris Paul, and with a new team configuration at their disposal, the Clippers’ decision-making in the next few years will be critical. Ballmer clearly wants to win, and he is trying to build a new stadium for a team that has and will always be the less popular of two in Los Angeles. With his resources and his drive to make the Clippers a prominent, winning franchise, the reality is that there’s no need to pay one person to do two jobs.