Before the start of the 2011-12 season, during the NBA’s lockout, there were discussions that Rondo would be traded to New Orleans for Chris Paul, but the possibility of a deal fell through, according to reports at the time, because Paul would not commit to signing with Boston when he became a free agent the following summer.
According to Allen, though, the deal fell through for a different reason: “In the end, Doc decided he couldn’t do that to their coach, Monty Williams. Doc was a mentor to Monty, having coached him in Orlando.”
Once that trade was off the table, Allen wrote that he was shocked to find the Celtics move in the opposite direction — instead of trading Rondo, Rivers decided to build the offense around him, as if rewarding his bad behavior. Allen said the season that followed, “my last under contract, was the most stressful by far. It got to the point that Rondo would not even throw the ball to me.”
Several former Clippers characterized in Rivers a tendency to placate a player by telling him what he wanted to hear, on occasion even criticizing a teammate that player was beefing with. Rivers didn't account for the fact that players, even ones who aren't always simpatico, talk among themselves and exchange notes. Though players regard him as reasonably honest in film sessions and on game night, keeping inventory of what their coach said about specific players became a parlor game among those players and their confidants.
Rivers' salesmanship has long been heralded as a strong suit. "We are all selling our stuff," he says, "That's what coaches do. We've got to sell what you think is the best way to win." But even those who admire Rivers' leadership style recognize his propensity to promise roles to players that don't materialize.
Indeed, over the course of Rivers' four years with the 2013-17 core, players came to doubt the sincerity of his comments or stated intentions. Some cited a statement by Rivers to ESPN's Zach Lowe this past fall that J.J. Redick was "begging" to return to the Clippers, a declaration that rang so false to anyone who knows Redick that there was a collective bewilderment that Rivers would even say it aloud in polite conversation. For several of his players, it was further proof Rivers had a willingness to peddle mistruths in an effort to spin perception to his liking. To them, Rivers had a talented politician's ability to inspire with rallying cries, but also to fudge the truth for personal expediency in the moment.
Last March in Memphis at a team meeting, after a particularly dispiriting effort in Minneapolis the previous night, Rivers lashed out at the team. He told the room he had received a text from Garnett, who believed Rivers was too easy on the guys -- a departure from Boston, where he held players accountable. Rivers said he told Garnett that he couldn't hold his current group accountable because they couldn't take it.
For the Clippers, Rivers' message was an illustration of the degree to which the relationship between coach and roster had deteriorated: Rivers had all but abdicated his responsibilities because he perceived his team was soft. His message was the coaches' equivalent of: "I wish you were never born."
Former teammates say that while Austin Rivers' demeanor wasn't always suited to winning friends, the problem wasn't so much personal as circumstantial. Opportunity is the most precious commodity in the NBA, particularly for non-stars, and Austin's presence on the team complicated the relationship between Doc and the locker room. Among themselves, certain players wondered whether Rivers' minutes were always earned, and some felt Austin, though occasionally criticized in film sessions, wasn't subjected to the same accountability in practice or games. They bristled at the suggestion that Austin was an additive on defense, a premise that Doc presented to the media and internally.