The Los Angeles Clippers sent Doc Rivers packing after his team blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. Expectations were sky-high coming into the postseason, and Rivers' squad couldn't deliver. Off goes Rivers. The man to replace him? Lead assistant Ty Lue.
Adrian Wojnarowski, who's having himself quite a day, reported Lue and the franchise had reached a five-year agreement to become the next head coach of the Clippers. The clock is already ticking for Lue, because if he doesn't summon up results this year, he and the franchise could be in dire straits.
There is no grace period afforded for any coach coming into a situation like the Clippers' current state. The talent is overwhelming with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George leading the way. There are not only aspirations but clear-cut expectations for Lue to bring home a title. But what makes Lue's status particularly precarious is that Leonard and George can leave after this season if they so chose.
The Clippers' stars both have player options and can opt out after the 2021 season. As it stands, assuming they would absolutely exercise those options and leave Los Angeles without a championship would be nothing but reckless speculation. Leonard is the one who brought everything together and it's been known for years he wanted to go back home to the L.A. area, even while in Toronto. George is in the same boat. He arrived via trade rather than through free agency, but he's been open about his love for his home state and his desire to end up in Los Angeles has been obvious even since his days with the Indiana Pacers. They want to be there, they can't leave to join the Lakers, so they're going to do their damndest to make it work.
But if Lue can't keep them happy, anything is in play. Neither player is shy about leaving a good circumstance for a great one if they desire to. The weight on Lue's shoulders is immense, and it all starts right now. Because in a worst-case scenario for the Clippers, Lue may not be able to do enough, and Leonard and George do leave. Which leaves the Clippers with nothing. They traded basically every pick they have for the next six years, along with a promising young guard in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, to make this happen. If it doesn't pan out, they'll be in the worst spot anybody has seen as a franchise since the Brooklyn Nets after the Boston trade that robbed them of all their picks.
To reiterate, that's the worst-case scenario. Lue seems to be a good coach and he wouldn't have gotten this job if his star players didn't at least like him. But after firing Rivers, owner Steve Ballmer made it abundantly clear that anything short of greatness was not acceptable. As the Clippers found out, just having talent doesn't make a team great. It takes more than that. If they can't rise to those levels, the franchise could be in serious trouble -- and Lue would shoulder most of the blame.
No pressure, though.