There were eight men in the huddle outside the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room, all of them wearing suits or street clothes and none of them looking pleased.
But only one was doing all the talking.
Doc Rivers, the Clippers coach and top front-office executive whose team had just suffered a case of asphyxia in the Western Conference Semifinals that won’t be soon forgotten, was speaking with endless exasperation and surely trying to explain how this could all come to pass.
Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO who paid a record $2 billion to buy this team last August and was so hell-bent on bringing them all better days, listened intently inside their huddle with a blank look upon his face. The others, assistant coaches who surely thought like so many others that this team was finally turning the corner after its gritty first-round series win over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs, had open eyes and ears as well.
There is no explanation for any of this, though, and there’s certainly no excuse. The Clippers, who became just the ninth team in the history of the NBA to blow a 3-1 series lead in a seven-game playoff series, followed Friday’s Game 6 collapse with one of the least-spirited efforts you’ll ever see on this sort of stage. It was 113-100 Rockets in Game 7 at the Toyota Center, an end-to-end effort by the resilient Rockets against a Clippers team that put up about as much fight as the actors at Rockets home games who let the mascot pummel them with pie.
In the place that was once deemed Choke City, no less.
Yet again, this Clippers core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan that hasn’t reached the Conference Finals in their four seasons together couldn’t get it done. Yet again, Rivers – who came to town two summers ago from Boston for the sole purpose of leading this sad-sack franchise to the NBA mountaintop – was left to wonder how he’ll improve a roster that is so restricted. And yet again, a Clippers franchise that had been to the playoffs just four times before the Paul trade with New Orleans in Dec. 2012 appears destined for basketball doom.
Unless Rivers, of course, can find a way to work the kind of roster magic that certainly didn’t happen this season. For all the fault that should be shared between the Clippers’ Big Three with how they wilted at the end here, roster depth was a major problem for these Clippers. As Rivers knows, that falls on him.
“I want to fix it,” Rivers told USA TODAY Sports. “I want to win. That’s why I came here. I knew when I came here that roster-wise it was going to be very difficult. The first thing I did before I took this job, I looked at the roster and we laughed. I was like, ‘What the (expletive) can we do with this?’ It was more the contracts. But we have to try to do it somehow. I don’t know how yet, but something will work out.”
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SOURCE: USA Today