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Clippings: Making sense of the Clippers head coaching search

Two weeks after parting ways with Doc Rivers, how close are the Clippers to finding their next coach?

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It has been two weeks since the Clippers parted ways with Doc Rivers, and they still appear to be in no rush to fill that empty position. They are not alone in taking their time — four other head coaching jobs remain open, while four teams have already signed new head coaches this offseason.

After Rivers was let go, The Athletic reported that the Clippers didn’t have a particular type of coach in mind, but they were interested in a few attributes:

They want their next coach to be a high-level game strategist who values progress and innovation, seeking any edge possible.

They also want a coach who prioritizes player development and can uphold the tough, gritty identity that the franchise cultivated as overachieving underdogs during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.

Just as important, they would like to get back to playing fun and competitive basketball that their fans can enjoy and be proud of backing.

Thus far, the team has reportedly interviewed (or scheduled meetings) with Milwaukee assistant coach Darvin Ham, Golden State assistant Mike Brown, and Denver assistant Wes Unseld Jr. while also keeping current assistant Tyronn Lue in consideration.

Of those names, Ham and Unseld seem to fit the build as innovative coaches who prioritize player development. Ham was part of a program in Atlanta that routinely built up quality role players and developed an offense that maximized everyone’s individual talents, though creativity and development have notably taken a backseat in Milwaukee. Unseld is the lead assistant of a staff in Denver that has had several player development success stories, including Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr., and others. He has also taken the lead role for a defense that has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. Furthermore, the Nuggets clearly had a joyous locker room this season.

Brown makes less sense within these criteria. He failed to deliver on high expectations in Cleveland and with the Lakers. He didn’t have too many young players to work with in those stints as management continued to search for veterans for ill-fated title pursuits, but he didn’t exactly develop any youngins either. Although Brown reportedly had a “promising” interview with the Clippers, that seems to have come from his camp rather than a notoriously tight-lipped LA front office.

Lue has success at the highest level, but his teams didn’t exactly inspire during the regular season and were able to flip the switch in a somewhat weaker Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers also struggled on defense during his tenure, not exactly the “tough, gritty” identity the Clippers appear to be searching for. However, Lue was remarkably innovative. He consistently pushed the right buttons in the postseason and was extremely flexible with his rotations and schemes.

It would seem that the Clippers are more interested in younger assistants who haven’t yet been head coaches so that they are more adaptable, and that Brown was included just to ensure that the front office casts a wide net in its search. The fact that Lue is still interviewing around the league suggests that the Clippers haven’t made him a priority, despite his overwhelming qualifications as a championship head coach.

Two weeks ago, Lue seemed like the prohibitive favorite. The longer this process takes, the more likely it is that Lue no longer enjoys that status. Perhaps the Clippers have not been able to separate Lue from the ills that plagued the team this season — something that appears to be affecting Sam Cassell’s candidacy as well. Then again, this front office operates in stealth. What seems to be a preference for an outside candidate could simply be those agents doing good work on behalf of their clients.

It’s probably best to wait for these proceedings to play out rather than make any guesses about what the Clippers will do next. But it’s also way more fun to speculate. There is a long offseason ahead.

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