A strong relationship with Paul Pierce brought The Truth to Staples Center on a sweetheart deal, a positive reputation amongst players brought in Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith on minimum deals, and Rivers’s ability to connect with those he coaches even brought DeAndre Jordan back to Los Angeles when it looked like he was departing for Dallas.
With depth now at every position and perhaps the most talented roster in franchise history, Doc Rivers the general manager may have created a headache — or series of headaches — for Doc Rivers the coach.
Stephenson’s poor fit with the Charlotte Hornets is a topic that’s been covered to the point of exhaustion, so we’re not going to spend time on it here, but it’s still worth mentioning considering Rivers will have to integrate him both on and off the floor. After Smith was infamously waived (stretch provision) by the Detroit Pistons after an ill-fitting free-agent experiment went toxic, the Houston Rockets helped him revive his career. Although now undoubtedly a bargain with the Clippers, Smith faces stiff competition for playing time considering the competition. Jamal Crawford, who could find himself on the outside looking in as a result of the club’s offseason moves, hasn’t been shy about expressing exactly how he feels regarding a potential role change.
Rivers has a (good) problem with all of the options he has on his roster, and while managing egos and personalities is something Rivers excels with, it’s going to be a scenario similar to the one he saw in Boston with Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo all on the same roster.
Recently sharing his vision on Pierce specifically, Rivers shed some light on how he was going to use Captain Clutch at this stage of his career (via Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston):
“Paul will be great. Paul, I don’t want to overuse him. I know that. So, I don’t even know how we are going to use him yet. I want to play him at [power forward] a lot. What I want him to be is healthy in the playoffs. So however we can figure that out, that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Considering the success Pierce enjoyed as a small ball power forward for his one-and-done stint with the Washington Wizards last season, Rivers’s idea makes sense on the surface. The problem is how it impacts two of his three most important players in Jordan and franchise icon Blake Griffin. Pierce spending time at the 4 means either Griffin or Jordan is on the bench, a scenario neither is going to love. With Jordan’s desire for a larger role a major factor in his free-agent flirtation, a reduction in minutes — or further downsizing of his involvement — isn’t much of an option. Somehow, Rivers is going to have to make it work and sell it as a concept that’s going to benefit everyone involved. That’s not just so easy, especially because we haven’t talked about Smith — another power forward expecting playing time at his real position.
It doesn’t get any easier in the backcourt, either.
With Chris Paul taking the lion’s share of minutes at the point-guard position, either Pablo Prigioni or Austin Rivers — not both — will claim whatever is remaining. With Rivers also capable of playing off the ball and Prigioni brought into the fold specifically to orchestrate the second unit, Doc’s son may be buried on his dad’s depth chart before training camp ever starts. Stephenson, who Rivers has said could spend some time at the point, is going to get minutes at the 2. Assuming J.J. Redick’s health holds up, that doesn’t leave much room for Crawford, Rivers or 2014 first round pick C.J. Wilcox to fulfill their individual potential.
One of the most impressive things about the Golden State Warriors’ run to the 2015 NBA title was Steve Kerr’s incredible ability to manage his locker room. Kerr got former No. 1 pick Andrew Bogut to buy into sitting on the bench in the pursuit of the ultimate team goal. Kerr was able to persuade former All-Star Andre Iguodala to accept — and thrive in — a bench role and even got David Lee, who not so long ago was the first free agent to make coming to the Bay Area popular, to sacrifice his role entirely in order for Draymond Green to perform on an entirely different platform. Kerr got his players to buy into his message — to set aside individualism for the whole — which is exactly what Rivers needs to do.
If Doc can use the balance of superstars, veterans and his own charisma to set the proper tone, the Los Angeles Lakers may no longer be the only team in Los Angeles with a championship banner.