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Move by Rivers once unimaginable

by Sam Smith

Duck, duck your head! Pigs are flying!

They have to be. The Clippers, the Los Angeles Clippers of the NBA, the team that has been an NBA punch line for ineptitude, incompetence and penury for three decades, agreed to hire the league’s most in-demand coach, Doc Rivers, and is paying him as much as any coach in basketball.

Yes, the Clippers, whose owner has been sued as a slum lord with his real estate properties and who even has taken to booing and heckling his own players from his courtside seat.

The Clippers, who are the only team in the NBA ever to have their general manager and coach sue the team to get paid.

The Clippers, who missed the playoffs 15 straight seasons in one stretch and have only made the playoffs six times since 1976 when they were the Buffalo Braves.

That was just before the owner of the team made the only good trade in franchise history. That’s when John Y. Brown traded the team to the owner of the Boston Celtics, Irv Levin, who was from California and wanted to own a California team.

The Braves were failing and were prepared to move. So Levin and Brown traded franchises, and the Braves became the Clippers and moved to San Diego.

And the Clippers tradition began when they moved and signed to a massive contract Bill Walton, the great center whose feet were bad and who would play 14 games in his first four seasons with the Clippers.

Current owner Donald Sterling, a personal injury attorney who made his money buying Los Angeles real estate, purchased the Clippers for the 1981-82 season and quickly was suing the NBA to allow a move to Los Angeles.

And from there it was a succession of ill-advised personnel moves and constant coaching changes and league wide ridicule until. . .

The Clippers signed the coach, Rivers, who everyone wants. And are paying him $7 million annually at a time top teams are dumping top coaches, like George Karl in Denver and Lionel Hollins in Memphis, to save money.

The Clippers are doing so in order to persuade top free agent Chris Paul to re-sign for a maximum salary to pair with All Star Blake Griffin and to become for the first time ever a serious contender for the NBA championship.

Yes, Doc Rivers wants to be a Clipper.

Rivers has been one, playing a season for the Clippers in a solid NBA career in which he played in one All-Star Game. The outgoing and friendly Rivers quickly became a top TV analyst after his playing career ended in 1996.

But he gained his most fame as a championship coach for the Boston Celtics with their second era Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

Allen since went to Miami and was on the 2013 title team. Meanwhile, Boston sunk to the edge of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference with the season- ending injury to Rajon Rondo and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

General manager Danny Ainge, who played for the great Celtics teams of the 1980s and saw the franchise decline when they allowed those players to retire as Celtics, has long said he would not make that mistake.

Perhaps he waited too long in being fooled after the seven- game series with Miami in 2012 that the Celtics were still contenders. It became clear with the declines of Garnett and Pierce they no longer are, and the Celtics several weeks ago quietly began looking for an option for Rivers.

They did not want to pay him $7 million annually for three more years as they begin to rebuild. For his part, Rivers was in agreement.

Sure, it was a lot of money. But Rivers is so highly regarded in coaching circles that he would be pursued by many teams.

Rivers liked what he saw with the Clippers, where the weather, by the way, is the best in the U.S., and agreed he would go along with a transfer.

Initially, it was tied to a trade involving Garnett to the Clippers as the Clippers were so anxious to get Rivers they went along with Boston’s holdup of center DeAndre Jordan and multiple first-round picks for Rivers and Garnett.

But the NBA stepped in and said teams cannot combine a player and coach deal like that. So the Garnett trade died while the Clippers continued to pursue Rivers for a swap that included compensation of a 2015 first- round draft pick.

Many would not be surprised if the Celtics buy out Pierce to save $10 million and he signs with the Clippers as he is a native of Los Angeles.

It’s also not inconceivable given the Celtics’ plans, that Garnett is traded elsewhere and perhaps Rajon Rondo as well.

Rivers did not want to ride the Celtics ship down and take on all those losses and all those long seasons with no chances to win.

The irony, of course, given NBA history, was that the answer to avoiding the ignominy of defeat was to go to the Clippers.

Anyone get the number on that flying pig?

Sam Smith covered the Chicago Bulls for 25 years with the Chicago Tribune. He is the author of the best-selling book “The Jordan Rules.”