Doc Rivers is a man. He's 54 years old, and he's in his 16th season as an NBA coach (not counting 11 games before being fired by Orlando in 2003). Doc's also won 723 basketball games as a head coach, and he makes $10 million a year to keep winning games. Doc Rivers' Clippers team also lost in a 7-game second-round playoff series in which they didn't have homecourt because they finished tied for second place with Houston and fell to the 3-seed due to a tiebreaker. Oh, yeah, the Clippers also had to play a grueling first-round series against the freaking San Antonio Spurs while 2-seed Houston got to play the Dallas Mavericks. Now--nothing against Dallas, but we can objectively agree that they would have been a preferable opponent to San Antonio.
So, when Doc Rivers had an opportunity to increase his odds at winning a regular-season game this year (in a Western Conference where 1 game could be just as big as last season), he took it.
The backstory is that the Portland Trail Blazers filled out their active roster form incorrectly tonight. Per NBA rules, someone on the coaching staff of each team must list their players names 1-15, circling the ones who are to be made active and crossing out the ones who are to be made inactive. Then, the head coach reviews and signs off on the list, and it's submitted to the other team and the officials an hour prior to gametime.
Tonight, the Trail Blazers staff incorrectly crossed out C.J. McCollum's name and circled Luis Montero's--an understandable mistake, given that Montero directly follows McCollum alphabetically on the roster. Unfortunately for Portland, head coach Terry Stotts didn't recognize the error and signed off on the sheet, benching a player who scores 21 points a game for a player who hasn't scored 21 points in his career (no, really, Montero has 13 career points). Apparently Portland tried to correct the error, didn't follow the correct protocol, and (apparently) the league left it up to Doc Rivers to decide if he would permit McCollum to play or not.
So, Doc Rivers, a man paid 8 figures to win basketball games, made an obvious decision to help his team win a basketball game. He took advantage of Portland's error and was able to face them without their second-leading scorer. The Clippers ended up winning by 11 points and extending their winning streak to 7 with a road win in Portland.
Now, it's kind of hard to believe that Doc was actually given the choice. Shouldn't the rulebook outline how to proceed in a given situation, and something is either legal or illegal? The answer is yes. Neither coach mentioned this decision being offered to Doc in their postgame remarks on the matter, with Doc stating: "it's not on us. It's on them." and Stotts said it was his fault for signing the paper without looking at it more closely first. I won't outright state that Oregonian reporter Joe Freeman is wrong in stating that Doc was given the decision, just that I'm at least skeptical.
Even if Doc was given the choice, does anyone expect him to allow McCollum to play? Doc was previously punished for making the same mistake two years ago when Danny Granger had to sit out a game because his name wasn't circled on the active roster. I get that it's sports and we don't always view it this way, but if you had a chance to increase your opportunity to succeed at your job--and you had a career where job security wasn't exactly ideal--wouldn't you do the same?
The other school of thought is more old-fashioned--face your opponent at full strength, take their best shot. Otherwise, the win isn't worthwhile, right? I get it--I really do. But it's just unrealistic when you have a man trying to win basketball games to keep his $10 million a year job winning basketball games.
Look--the reality of the thing is that this isn't much of a controversy to begin with. All 29 other NBA coaches would do the same thing, and any who wouldn't would be stupid to do so. And, if it wasn't the Clippers and Doc Rivers, it probably wouldn't have been blown so out of proportion. If the roles were reversed, we'd be getting "same old Clippers" headlines, not hearing about how Terry Stotts is... well, you know.
This is just the latest story of the day in which the Clippers are the villains. The good news is that it'll blow over and everyone will have forgotten in a few days (until LAC gets a higher playoff seed by one win). The bad news is that there'll be something else in a few days, because there's always something else.