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In Rivers, Clippers may have biggest prize in Celtics' breakup

The Clippers are counting on Doc Rivers' famous set plays to unleash their newly reconfigured backcourt. (USATSI)
The Clippers are counting on Doc Rivers' famous set plays to unleash their newly reconfigured backcourt. (USATSI)

The biggest headlines were made in Houston and Brooklyn this summer with blockbuster offseason moves that will resonate all the way to opening night. The breakup of the Celtics sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets, and Dwight Howard's decision left the Lakers in an odd period of transition.

But what about the "other" team in LA? The Clippers, it should be noted, also came out of a dramatic NBA summer with a Hall of Famer of their own.

Glenn "Doc" Rivers.

The master plan, of course, was to somehow pull the veil over the NBA's eyes and send Rivers, Garnett and Pierce to LA to team with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. In one of his last stands as commissioner, David Stern wasn't having it. The man who steered Paul to the Clippers and away from the Lakers in December 2012 was not going to preside over a trade involving two Hall of Fame players and a Hall of Fame coach.

So ...

The Clippers went to Plan B. And their Plan B was always Plan A for the Celtics, who wanted to make sure they didn't have to pay Rivers $21 million over the next three seasons to preside over a massive, top-down rebuilding.

In the end, everybody won. The Nets and their brazen billionaire owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, got their high-priced, big-game talent and will take their whacks at Miami, Indiana and the rival Knicks in the East -- an $80 million luxury tax bill be damned. The Celtics have oodles of draft picks and a promising young coach, Brad Stevens, who will have a chance to forge the same kind of long-term relationship with GM Danny Ainge that Rivers had.

The Lakers lost out on Howard, but I haven't ruled out the possibility that Kobe Bryant coming off an Achilles injury and stubbornly forging on without Howard will be the most compelling basketball story in LA next season.

In the end, what did the Clippers do, exactly? Well, by securing Rivers -- the best coach in basketball not named Gregg Popovich -- they put the final stamp on retaining Paul in free agency without so much as an hour of uncertainty. Rivers replacing Vinny Del Negro as the coach of any basketball team is the most obvious upgrade imaginable.

But they also overpaid for J.J. Redick, confident that Rivers' brilliant set plays and Paul's majesty will free him up for plenty of open looks from the perimeter. They lost valuable backup point guard Eric Bledsoe in the trade that got them Redick and Jared Dudley, but replaced him with the more than capable Darren Collison on an insanely reasonable deal that will pay him less than $2 million a year. Given Paul's knee issues in recent years, the Collison signing was beyond critical.

Ultimately, it will be up to Rivers to coax more breadth and maturity out of Griffin's game, especially when it comes to rebounding and jump-shooting. But Rivers didn't win a championship in Boston and become one of the best coaches on the planet by coaching away from his players' strengths. One immediate takeaway from the Clippers' offseason is that Rivers has a chance to be the best thing that has ever happened to Griffin.

With LaMarcus Aldridge's future in Portland in question, it wasn't surprising that Blazers GM Neil Olshey -- who was the Clippers' assistant GM when they drafted Griffin -- explored the possibility of an Aldridge-for-Griffin swap this summer. The talks didn't go anywhere.

It also will be on Rivers to figure out how to close games with a center, DeAndre Jordan, who shot 39 percent from the free-throw line last season. As they say, that's why the Clippers will pay Rivers the big bucks.

The question is whether all of these moves have put the Clippers on the same level as the defending conference champion Spurs -- not to mention the Thunder, who will have Russell Westbrook back; the Grizzlies, who evicted the Clips from the playoffs last season; and the Warriors, who added lockdown defender Andre Iguodala. It's a lot to ask of a coach, but Rivers should be worth a good half-dozen wins at least, meaning the Clippers will be in the mix for a 60-win season and Western Conference supremacy.

Which means that at the very least, we might need to stop calling them the "other" team in LA.

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