Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers may have lost his front-office duties earlier this summer, but he still knows a thing or two about NBA roster construction.
In the four years since Rivers left the Boston Celtics for Los Angeles, the Clippers have enjoyed the most productive run in the history of the franchise — in 2017, they topped 50 wins for the fifth consecutive season, a team record. But while the once downtrodden Clippers have done a remarkable job of turning things around, Rivers believes that one NBA executive is ahead of all the rest: his former boss in Boston, Danny Ainge.
Ainge is known as an incredibly savvy dealmaker who never shies away from trading beloved players in exchange for future assets. Celtics fans don’t always agree with his moves at first, but with nine postseason appearances in the last decade, including last season’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals, they can’t deny their effectiveness.
Neither can Rivers, who praised both Ainge and his own replacement, head coach Brad Stevens, for their rapid work in turning around a team that went just 25-57 in the 2013-14 season.
“I love what they have done,” he said, according to Stephen Hewitt of the Boston Herald. “I think the turnaround in four years starting with hiring Brad and then going from…[Ainge] and [assistant general manager] Mike Zarren have done the best job I’ve seen in sports in a long, long time of rebuilding. Maybe ever.”
Ainge has long been known for his propensity for big trades, but he took that reputation to new heights this offseason. He recently traded Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic, along with two draft picks, to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for Kyrie Irving, who was eager to escape the shadow of LeBron James. Ainge also dealt defensive whiz Avery Bradley to the Pistons for Marcus Morris, which freed up the cap space to sign Gordon Hayward, one of the summer’s top free agents.
The result is a roster that features just four returning players. That’s an absurdly low number for a team that won 53 games last season, yet the Celtics are still viewed by many observers as the favourite to win the conference.
With the addition of players like Danilo Gallinari, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Milos Teodosic, Rivers’ roster will also have a new look this season, but he still has fond memories of his days in Boston.
“My love for them hasn’t changed,” Rivers said. “For me, it was time for me to change. When you’re somewhere for nine years, you don’t think whether it’s the right or wrong decision, you think it’s the right decision for you at that time. But as far as wanting them to do well, that will never change. Unless they’re playing me.”
Rivers and the Clippers will kick off their season on October 19 against their crosstown rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers. They’re scheduled to face the Celtics on January 24 of next year.
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