- Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty
The Los Angeles Clippers as we’ve known them for six years ended on Wednesday when it was reported the Houston Rockets and Clippers agreed to a trade to send Chris Paul to the Rockets.
The move wasn’t wholly unexpected as some NBA rumors suggested Paul, Blake Griffin, and J.J. Redick, all free agents this summer, may not re-sign with the Clippers after yet another early postseason exit.
While Paul informing the Clippers he intended to leave in free agency seemingly happened for several reasons, chatter is growing that a big source was a rift with Doc Rivers, one that may have been caused, in part, from his son Austin Rivers.
In 2015, the Clippers traded for Austin, who, at the time, had been a fairly disappointing combo guard for the New Orleans Pelicans. Of course, many suggested that the trade only occurred because Austin’s father, Doc, is the coach and president of basketball operations for the Clippers.
In two years, Austin has actually grown into a solid role player – a decent ball-handler, shooter, and defender who gave the Clippers good minutes off the bench. In the summer of 2016, the Clippers re-signed him to a three-year, $35 million contract.
Now, however, it sounds like Austin’s tenure with the Clippers created some chemistry issues. After news of Paul’s trade to the Rockets broke, ESPN’s Michael Eaves reported Paul and other Clippers felt Doc didn’t treat Austin the same as other players on the team.
“Paul’s relationship with Doc Rivers started to deteriorate rapidly after the Clippers acquired Austin Rivers. Several members of the team felt Austin acted entitled because his dad was both the coach and the President of Basketball Operations. In the view of the tenured players, Austin Rivers never tried to fit in, and when players tried to address the situation with him, he still did not respond the way the core of the team wanted him to. It led to resentment within the locker room, which often played out during games. One of Paul’s biggest contentions with Doc was that Paul, and other players, felt Doc treated Austin more favorably than other players. He would yell at guys for certain things during games and practices, but not get on Austin in the same manner for similar transgressions.”
Austin denied the report.
These false rumors are comedy…so fictional it's actually amusing! People will say or do anything to get attention. A lot ???????? out there
— Austin Rivers (@AustinRivers25) June 28, 2017
Eaves’ report of contention within the Clippers is the strongest yet, but others have suggested that there is real fire behind the smoke.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote after the Clippers-Rockets trade:
“The culture had eroded. Insiders complained about a lack of accountability — about practices and shootarounds starting late, and Austin Rivers carrying himself like an anointed superstar. (This appears to have gotten better over the past year-plus, and Rivers has clearly earned his keep as a plus reserve.)
“The relationship between Paul and Doc Rivers frayed, sources say.”
Additionally, while appearing on Lowe’s podcast, ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne said the timing of Austin’s contract last season made things “awkward” on the team.
“Because he’s Austin Rivers, because he’s Doc’s son, it’s always going to be awkward for everyone involved. Even last year, it’s not so much that they re-signed him, it’s that they re-signed him before Jamal [Crawford]. So, if you pay him first, what does that signal to the rest of the team? That you took care of your son first. Is that Austin Rivers’ fault? No, he had offers from other teams, but he’s Doc Rivers’ son, so it’s just always going to be that way. If you have players who aren’t playing as much as they want or Austin’s playing a different role or Austin carries himself a certain way they don’t like, whatever it is, because of who he is, it’s always going to be a problem.”
However, any rift caused by Austin wasn’t the only thing that led to the team breaking up.
Eaves also reported that Paul was unhappy that Doc turned down a potential trade for Carmelo Anthony, while Shelburne noted that Paul wasn’t happy about the Clippers’ alleged doubts about signing him to a full, five-year max contract this summer.
In general, the team as a whole seemed to struggle with its chemistry. ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz had reported that Paul’s demanding ways sometimes wore thin on teammates. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said Redick leaving in free agency this summer is the “worst kept secret” in the league, perhaps a sign of his growing weary of the Clippers’ inner-dynamics.
There’s no shame in six straight 50-win seasons and relative playoff success. The Clippers were on the verge of reaching a next level in the postseason several times, only to suffer mental collapses or untimely injuries.
But if anything, it’s a sign of how delicate the balance of team chemistry can be. A move to acquire a young combo guard may have played a part in the team feeling divided and losing an All-Star point guard.