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Sam Cassell expected to join Clippers coaching staff

Washington assistant coach and former Clipper point guard Sam Cassell has been let out of his Wizards contract, a pre-cursor to joining Doc Rivers' Clippers coaching staff in L.A.


Having Doc Rivers as a head coach has advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the makeup of the coaching staff. Rivers is among the most respected and liked coaches in the league, and as such, there is never a shortage of terrific candidates who would like to work for/with him. However, those coaches have their own aspirations as well, and eventually they need to move on to pursue their own careers.

The best example is Tom Thibodeau, Thibodeau joined the Celtics in 2007, the year they won the NBA title. The Celtics went from 24 wins to 66 that season, and while the additions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen along with the development of Rajon Rondo were clearly the biggest factors in that turnaround, the stifling defense implemented by Thibodeau, which led the league in defensive efficiency by some 2.7 points per 100 possessions is an underrated component of that championship. Three seasons later Thibodeau was winning the NBA Coach of the Year award as the head coach in Chicago.

When Rivers came to the Clipper, he brought with him a highly respected stable of assistants, including the homegrown Tyronn Lue. He also had a spot open, and was able to higher former head coach Alvin Gentry to fill it. This off-season, both Lue and Gentry were candidates for head coaching jobs and high profile assistant position, and both moved on for more money and more responsibility (Lue is the Associate Head Coach in Cleveland where he suddenly has the pre-emptive favorite to win the Eastern Conference while Gentry will be sitting net to Steve Kerr in Oakland as the associate head coach of the Golden State Warriors).

Those departures, along with the move of Kevin Eastman from the bench to the front office, left some openings on Rivers staff. As with Gentry last season, Rivers' first move was to nab a high profile former head coach, Mike Woodson late of the New York Knicks. For his second move, Rivers went with an up-and-coming assistant, and a face incredibly familiar to Clippers' fans: Sam Cassell, the former LAC point guard who has been as assistant with the Wizards for the past five seasons.

Cassell was perhaps the most obvious future coach from his generation of NBA players -- not only because he was a leader on the court, but also because he clearly wanted to coach. Before retiring from the NBA, he actively spoke of wanting to coach. But unlike some of his peers like Mark Jackson, he knew he needed some seasoning as an assistant before insisting on being a head coach. Cassell has gotten rave reviews for his work in developing point guard John Wall with the Wizards -- he doesn't have that same challenge with the Clippers, were Chris Paul isn't exactly a diamond in the rough. He does however need to have a strong relationship with the Clippers' on court leader, and as a former all star point guard in the league, he comes to the job with built-in credibility.

You'll recall that Sam concluded his NBA days playing for Rivers in Boston, where he bookended his career with a final championship to go with the pair of rings he earned in Houston his first two seasons in the league. Cassell began that final season as a Clipper, but was released in February so that he could join a contender -- a move I criticized at the time that might nonetheless have endeared the organization to Cassell in the long run.

The deal is not official yet, but it's been no secret that Rivers has been pursuing Cassell, and J. Michael is reporting that the Wizards have agreed to let Cassell out of his current contract so that he can join Rivers' staff in L.A.

It's a great hire for the Clippers: Cassell is a respected former player, who's had success has an assistant, who has close ties to the team and the fan base. In case you're wondering, the answer is "No", Cassell did not play for the Clippers with anyone on the current roster -- DeAndre Jordan came into the league the season that Sam retired. (Cassell and Big Baby Davis were teammates in Boston.) But he and Chris Paul have the distinction of being the only point guards to ever lead Clipper teams to playoff series wins -- and now they'll get to work together to try to advance even further in the postseason.