After a season-long struggle with a team whose depth was thinner than store-brand tissue, Clippers coach Doc Rivers finally has some flexibility when it comes to his rotation. With Matt Barnes shipped out in the Lance Stephenson deal, he also has the responsibility of anointing a new starter on the wing alongside their “Core Four,” and it appears he’s made his choice, at least for now:
Just had a long sit down w Doc Rivers. He's still undecided, but seems to be leaning to starting Wes Johnson.
— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) September 23, 2015
This comes as a minor shock, considering the Clips added not only Stephenson, but future Hall of Famer Paul Pierce, but it does make sense in the long-term. The Matt Barnes role requires that fifth starter to defend the other team’s star on a consistent basis, and there’s no point in exhausting Pierce, nearly 38, with that task, nor will they want to depend on Stephenson on an every-night basis, at least not this early in his tenure. (Josh Smith is also an option now, except playing him extended minutes at small forward is why his Pistons career ended in disaster.)
In Year 5 of the Chris Paul Era (only one away from matching the six he spent in New Orleans), the Clippers are now a “playoffs or bust” team. If they win 60 games and claim a top two seed only to flame out with anything less than a strong showing in the conference finals, they’ll likely still be considered a disappointment. Maybe Johnson proves incapable of handling the nightly burden, but it seems as if Rivers is taking a page out of his Celtics playbook and planning ahead for what will serve his team best come springtime.