The Los Angeles Clippers sent shockwaves through the NBA world on Monday evening, when they parted ways with longtime coach Doc Rivers -- a decision that came two weeks after the team blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
They now have a massive decision to make on their next coach, who will be tasked with bringing a championship to a team in absolute must-win now mode. But as we wait to see what the Clippers will do next, it's worth looking back to see how this decision came about.
Though Rivers had guided the team through one of the worst scandals in NBA history, and presided over their most successful era, this was now the second time he had blown a 3-1 lead in the postseason. But this decision wasn't simply about another embarrassing loss, even though that would be understandable. This was about owner Steve Ballmer taking control and deciding to shake things up, according to Ramona Shelburne and Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:
But those close to Ballmer knew it was only a matter of time before he put his stamp on the franchise. He made his fortune as a technology entrepreneur by constantly looking to innovate. And once he'd learned the ropes as an NBA owner, he brought that culture to the Clippers. Employees were urged to come up with new ideas and present evidence to support them.
So when Ballmer and Rivers began discussing what had gone wrong this season, sources said that instinct is what led Ballmer to question whether a new way of looking at the team, or a new voice, is what the Clippers really needed.
Ballmer consulted with Frank, minority shareholder Dennis Wong, consultant Jerry West and general manager Michael Winger. Before a final decision was made, sources said Ballmer called several key players -- including George and Leonard -- to get their opinions. Nothing the players told him, sources said, changed Ballmer's mind about moving on from Rivers. Ultimately, the decision to part ways with Rivers was Ballmer's.
Based on the report, it's not clear if the two stars also wanted Rivers gone, or simply signed off on the decision. Given their sway in the organization, and the fact that they can opt-out of their contracts and become free agents after next season, it seems that if anyone could have forced Ballmer to change course, it would have been them. But they weren't consulted until very late in the process, when it appears Ballmer had already made up his mind, and including them in the conversation may have just been a courtesy.
Regardless of the distinction there, it's clear that Ballmer was the driving force in getting rid of Rivers. Though the two have worked well together, Rivers was already the coach when Ballmer bought the team, and it's not surprising that at some point one of the richest and most powerful men in the country would want to bring in their own guy. A devastating playoff collapse just happened to present the perfect opportunity.