LOS ANGELES — Doc Rivers walked into Ingrid Williams’ Celebration of Life in Oklahoma, unsure whether he had completed a trade that sent Lance Stephenson to the Grizzlies for Jeff Green.
When the Clippers’ president and coach walked out—after hearing Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams give “probably the best speech I’ve ever heard” to honor his deceased wife—he received confirmation that the deal had beaten Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline.
“The service was about to start,” Rivers told reporters following the Clippers’ 105–86 home victory over the Spurs on Thursday. “I told [Clippers GM] Dave [Wohl] ‘yes’ and walked in. I didn’t know if the trade was done or not because I didn’t want to look at my phone. When the service was over, I looked at my phone and saw we pulled a trade.”
The deal, which sent Stephenson and a protected 2019 first-round pick to Memphis for Green, was one of the biggest moves during a fairly quiet trade deadline.
“I really wanted more length,” Rivers said of the move. “When you look at the teams we have to beat, we need to get longer, more athletic and we need to increase our shooting. And I think with Jeff we did all three of those things. … I thought of all the things that were offered he was the best available for us.”
The 6'9" Green will be utilized at both forward positions for the Clippers, just as he was used by the Grizzlies during his 13-month stay in Memphis. A combo forward blessed with good physical tools, Green is averaging 12.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists this season while shooting 43.1% from the field and just 30.9% from deep.
Rivers said he expected to play Green alongside Blake Griffin in small ball orientations once Griffin returns from a hand injury, and Green figures to be a go-to player in matchups with Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Golden State’s Harrison Barnes.
The Clippers (36–18, West’s No. 4 seed) joined the Thunder (40–14, West’s No. 3) in making minor moves on Thursday. Oklahoma City added guard Randy Foye from Denver, sending back D.J. Austin, Steve Novak and two draft picks. The West’s top two seeds—Golden State and San Antonio—both stood pat at the deadline.
Rivers acknowledged the Green trade wasn’t a true game-changer in terms of the Western Conference’s power structure.
“I don’t think anybody has closed the gap on Golden State, or San Antonio even though we just won,” Rivers said. “We have a lot of work to do. We want to just stay in the argument. When we get to one of those teams [in the playoffs], we’ll find that out. Golden State is the best team in the NBA and I don’t think it’s even close. We have to try to catch them.”
With Griffin, Austin Rivers and Pablo Prigioni all sidelined with injuries, Chris Paul said the Clippers would welcome Green’s arrival out of necessity.
“I think Jeff can really help us,” Paul said. “We’re excited for him to get here. We need the body, I can tell you that much.”
Jamal Crawford called Green “a great guy” and a “tremendous talent” while noting that Green played for Rivers during his time in Boston.
Stephenson, 25, was only playing sporadic minutes for the Clippers, averaging 4.7 points and 2.5 rebounds in 43 appearances after being acquired from the Hornets in a trade last summer. He performed well alongside the Clippers’ starters when given the opportunity, but his 6'5" size and lack of shooting meant he wasn’t a natural option to fill L.A.’s biggest hole, small forward.
While Stephenson was never able to lock down a consistent role, Rivers praised him as a “terrific” guy who conducted himself professionally during his time with the Clippers.
“Basketball-wise, at times he fit and at times he didn’t,” Rivers said. “Sometimes you go with your gut. … I was very ready to go into the playoffs with Lance. If something came our way with more length, like a Jeff Green, we were going to do it. Other than that we were keeping Lance.”
Doc Rivers, Austin Rivers and Paul were among the Clippers who flew from Oklahoma City back to L.A. in time for Thursday’s matchup. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan were also in attendance at Williams’s service.
Paul finished with 28 points, 12 assists and five rebounds in L.A.’s win.