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‘Down the road’ reunion for Magic and Doc Rivers is subject of latest coaching chatter – Marc Stein

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Chris Paul will become an unrestricted free agent in 106 days. Ditto for Blake Griffin.

The uncertain future of the two cornerstone players in Clipperland has been felt (and feared) by this franchise every single day since training camp commenced way back on Sept. 26.

So it goes when the widespread assumption in league circles holds that big changes are coming in the offseason if the Clippers fail to at least reach the Western Conference finals for the first time in CP3 and Griffin’s six seasons together.

Yet what if our focus is misplaced?

What if the ‎big change looming, in the event of another disappointing end to a Clippers season that began with such promise, occurs in the coaching box?

Doc Rivers is under contract to serve as Clippers coach and president of basketball operations through the 2018-19 season. This is Year 3 of the five-year deal Rivers landed with new Clippers owner Steve Ballmer — believed to be in excess of $50 million — after steering the club so admirably through the last days of Donald T. Sterling’s famously chaotic and controversial reign that spanned more than three decades.

That monster pact, however, hasn’t prevented Rivers’ name from popping up in one of the league’s more rampant recent conspiracy theories.

There has been persistent chatter for weeks over the NBA’s front-office grapevine that the Orlando Magic and Rivers will explore a reunion down the road.

Now, you’re certainly not alone if you’re wondering whether down the road in this case should be measured in months or years.

More clarity, though, might not be far off.

The Clippers, for starters, are bound to put their entire operation under the microscope if their season continues to unravel in its current manner. Injuries have undoubtedly played their part, with Paul and Griffin playing together in only 37 of L.A.’s 69 games to date, but a 5-8 funk heading into Saturday night’s home showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers has threatened to knock the Clips down to the West’s sixth or seventh seed.

Not what anyone expected, least of all Ballmer, when these same Clips jumped out to a 14-2 start.

The Magic, meanwhile, appear headed for their own sooner-rather-than-later shakeup. League sources say without hesitation that Orlando general manager Rob Hennigan finds himself on the hot seat and is increasingly likely to be dismissed at season’s end, with the Magic on course for a fifth successive losing season under Hennigan’s watch.

It might only be a matter of weeks, then, before the Magic have a vacancy for a new lead voice in the organization.

The simpler move for Orlando, of course, would be to hire an on-the-rise executive to take over basketball operations and work with first-year coach Frank Vogel. Ex-Magic forward Pat Garrity, presently in Detroit as part of Stan Van Gundy’s cabinet, has emerged as a potential target to come aboard in precisely those circustances and inherit Vogel, who appeared to be absolved from blame for Orlando’s 25-45 misery this season when Hennigan conceded that the roster was overloaded with big men and traded Serge Ibaka to Toronto just eight months after surrendering Victor Oladipo, No. 11 overall Domantas Sabonis and a first-round pick to bring Ibaka in.

Talk of an eventual Rivers return to the Magic Kingdom, where he launched his coaching career, is nonetheless too prevalent among league insiders to ignore.

File it away, if nothing else, as we await a number of related dramas to play out. Such as:

  • Is the prospect of a new voice via coaching change, on top of Ballmer’s vows to spend as much as it takes to keep his top two stars, something L.A. should consider as part of its pitch to re-sign Paul and Griffin in the event this upcoming postseason plays out like the previous five?

  • Does it even make sense for the Clippers to try to keep that starry twosome together if this latest slide proves irreversible and they stretch it to six consecutive seasons in the Paul-and-Griffin era without progressing beyond the second round of the playoffs?

  • Is the simpler solution for the Clippers asking Rivers to merely surrender one of his titles — meaning his GM hat — to bring in a new team-builder that keeps one of the six active championship coaches in the game on his current bench?

  • Do the rumblings about Ballmer’s close ties to former Seattle SuperSonics and Portland Trail Blazers executive Bob Whitsitt, as some league insiders believe, make Whitsitt destined to land in charge of the Clips in coming years?‎

  • Do this week’s complaints about the ‎Clippers’ approach and inconsistency coming from J.J. Redick hint at his free-agent departure this summer? Word is that some within the organization are concerned Redick is going to be too pricey to re-sign when the sharpshooter, like L.A.’s starting point guard and power forward, hits the open market in July.

Weave through all of the above, and there’s clearly plenty here, dare we say, to keep you tuned in well after the Clips and Cavs hook up.


‎We’re almost there.

The NBA, assuming it makes it through the next three-plus weeks with no coaching casualties, is about to record its first campaign since 1970-71 without a single in-season coaching change.

The league, for the record, only fielded 17 teams back then, compared to the current 30.

‎The next trick, of course, will be seeing how many teams change coaches in the offseason, since we can almost always bank on a surprise firing (or three) beyond those who find themselves fielding regular questions about job security as the regular season dribbles to a close (such as New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry, New York’s Jeff Hornacek and Chicago’s Fred Hoiberg).

The last season in which every NBA team began with the head coach who finished the previous season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, was 1975-76 … just when your humble correspondent was falling in love with this league as an inquisitive 6-year-old.

There were 18 teams, for the record, in that NBA‎ season.


Jimmer Fredette, fresh off an MVP season with the Yao Ming-owned Shanghai Sharks, is back in the United States and eagerly awaiting the phone call that affords him another NBA shot.

‎Carlos Boozer, meanwhile, remains in China but has also played his way back onto the NBA’s radar, having helped the Guangdong Southern Tigers, along with veteran guard Donald Sloan, advance to within one game of the Chinese Basketball Association finals.

After a bumpy adjustment period to the Chinese game, Boozer has joined Fredette as one of the CBA’s most influential imports over the past two months. One source plugged firmly into the Chinese scene says that the Miami Heat and the aforementioned Clippers are among the teams tracking the 34-year-old’s progress with Guangdong.

One potential problem for Boozer: If Guangdong indeed reaches the championship series in China, he might run out of time to make it back to the States in time to hook up with a playoff team. Boozer is eligible to play in the NBA postseason for anyone who signs him, since he hasn’t been on a roster all season, but the one requirement is that he’d have to be signed back home before the NBA regular season ends April 12.


FWIW: The best available free agent, on this scorecard, ‎is Omri Casspi, who endured the misfortune of suffering a broken right thumb in his New Orleans Pelicans debut on Feb. 23 but, according to league sources, was cleared this week to resume basketball activities ahead of schedule.

Given Casspi’s ability to play small forward and power forward and shoot the ball from the deep, you have to believe a playoff-bound team will try to sign him in the coming days.

The Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies, sources say, are among the teams that have expressed exploratory interest. The Grizzlies, in particular, appear to have an opening on the wing after Chandler Parsons was sadly ruled out for the rest of the season thanks to his own hard-luck meniscus tear in his left knee.


A few fun tidbits, via tireless ESPN research ace Micah Adams, about the Spurs’ ridiculous run of 18 straight 50-win seasons:

  • The closest call to falling short of 50 occurred during the 2011-12 season, which, as you surely remember, was shortened to 66 games thanks to a lengthy lockout. The Spurs needed to finish that season with a 10-game winning streak to get to the big Five-Oh … and naturally did.

  • ‎The very first victory in this 18-season run came against Philadelphia on Nov. 2, 1999. Current ESPN analyst and longtime Spurs swingman Bruce Bowen played in that game … for the Sixers.

  • Kawhi Leonard was 8 years old when the streak began./p

  • ‎The Clippers entered 2016-17 with the second-longest active streak of 50-win seasons … albeit with just four.

  • Gregg Popovich has employed 137 players over these 18 seasons. Tim Duncan holds the record with 1,260 games played during the streak; Alex Scales ‎appeared in the fewest … as in just one.

  • In yet another testament to the job R.C. Buford has done as Pop’s trusty personnel ace: More than half of the Spurs’ players over the past 18 seasons — 56 percent — were not first-round draft picks. Forty-three of them, furthermore, were undrafted.



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