Even before a recent report that the Los Angeles Lakers front office is “dismayed” that head coach Luke Walton didn’t hire a more experience staff of assistants, it seemed pretty clear that he would be let go at the end of this season.
We all know the commonly rumored names to replace Walton is he is gone, too: Mark Jackson, Jason Kidd, Ty Lue, etc.
Almost two weeks ago, Stephen A. Smith of ESPN posited that Rivers “may potentially be pursued” by the Lakers, but given how nebulous that was — the Lakers “may potentially” pursue anyone, if you really think about it — it didn’t seem totally worth posting about in this space, even with Smith’s obvious line of access to Magic Johnson himself, and the ensuing likelihood he’s pretty plugged in in this specific area.
Still, it was something worth making a mental note of, especially now that it seems that Rivers might have mutual desire to switch locker rooms in Staples Center. Hall-of-Fame NBA reporter Peter Vecsey is reporting on his Patreon page that Rivers has had interest in coaching the Lakers for a long time, and might have interest again this summer if Walton is let go:
Would Rivers earnestly consider leaving a rebuilt playoff team (three starters are 22, 22 & 20; and then there’s Danilo Gallinari and two nuclear subs) that will enjoy enough cap space July 1 to entice on paper two free agents worthy of maximum investment (Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard are my educated guesses), and an owner who won’t faintly flinch to shell it out?
Of course, Rivers would!
According to a confidant, he almost always has wanted to leash the Lakers. In conversations over the years, Doc frequently expressed an ardent ambition to coach either them, or the Knicks before retiring, if for no other motivation than their worldwide brands.
Rivers leaving the Clippers — and their incredibly deep-pocketed owner who just extended him — might not seem to be so easily explained away by wanting to coach a team with the Lakers’ brand’s prestige, but even if he does want to coach the purple and gold, there would still be other complications.
For one thing, the Lakers would have to want Rivers, which Smith’s report would seem to at the very least heavily imply is the case, so we can probably check that box safely. The Lakers would also have to let Walton go, which seems to be almost a guarantee at this point given all the noise about it.
But even if and when all that becomes true, the Clippers would still have to agree to let Rivers leave. According to Broderick Turner of the L.A. Times, Rivers agreed to a two-year extension that is set to keep him with the Clippers through the 2020-21 season. The Clippers would have to let him out of that deal (unlikely, unless there is some out we’re currently unaware of) or trade him to the Lakers, which would quite possibly make Rivers the only head coach to be traded twice in his career (after the Celtics dealt him to the Clippers while he was under contract in the first place).
That aforementioned Celtics situation at least implies that Rivers is willing to plan his next destination while still with his current team, so it’s totally possible he’s plotting a similar move to coach LeBron James with the Lakers. But barring L.A. making Rivers the highest-paid coach in the NBA, or giving him back some of the basketball operations powers that Clippers owner Steve Ballmer made him relinquish, it’s hard to see what his motivation would be beyond the power of the Lakers’ brand that Vecsey mentions.
In the good news column, though, Rivers jumping ship would also (likely) mean that he was not very confident in the Clippers’ plans to try and add two superstars this summer, because as of right now the Clippers would seem to be a more desirable spot for a coach if they were able to execute on those grand dreams and the Lakers weren’t able to pair a second star with LeBron.
The main takeaway here — beyond the fact that the Lakers would probably have to relinquish an asset in order to trade for Rivers — is that Rivers is a really good coach who has the Clippers headed for the playoff spot so many laughed at them for thinking was possible ahead of the Lakers after the Lakers added James this summer, and the Lakers would be lucky to have him.
Rivers is a far more accomplished and desirable candidate than any of the names previously mentioned as well, and even if — as has hopefully been clear from the tone of this post — I’m skeptical that this is a very realistic hire even if both sides really do want to unite, if the Lakers could pry Rivers across the hallways of Staples Center to their locker room without giving up too much in compensation, he would be an amazing hire that is drastically better than the other rumored options. The field still seems more likely right now, but this is a situation worth keeping an eye on.