Matt Slocum / Associated Press
Few things in the NBA are really shocking, but the Los Angeles Clippers’ decision to do so some ways with head coach Doc Rivers on Monday afternoon was a rare exception.
Even after the Clippers threw the lead 3-1 in the semifinals of the Western Conference in Denver, no one saw it coming. Most believed that the coach who introduced the franchise through the 2014 Donald Sterling scandal, made the playoffs in six of his seven seasons and helped bring him into contact with the league’s most irrelevant organization would be as close to untouchable as any a coach not named Gregg Popovich or Erik Spoelstra.
The timing was weird. It’s been almost two weeks since the Clippers lost Game 7 to Denver and there was no indication that Rivers’ exit was still on the table. Like ESPN.com Adrian Wojnarowski said on Monday, Rivers still has two years on his contract and it is not cheap – his Annual salary of 11 million dollars is one of the highest for a coach in the NBA.
The team’s official announcement called it a “mutual decision”, but, for what it’s worth, Rivers thanked the Clippers Nation and not the Clippers or team leader Steve Ballmer in a statement posted on Twitter account. Draw your own conclusions there.
Was Rivers’ seven-year tenure with the Clippers successful? It depends on how you measure it.
Rivers came to the Clippers in 2013 after nine seasons with the Boston Celtics, which included two trips to the finals and an NBA title in 2008. With Chris Paul’s blooming Big Three, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan already in place, belief in the time was that the upgrade from Vinny Del Negro to Rivers would be the move that turned the Clippers into real contenders for the first time in franchise history.
Craig Mitchelldyer / Associated Press / Associated Press
With these expectations, Rivers soon arrived. His Clippers never made it to the Final, let alone won a title. He did not reach the Western Conference finals either, despite a 3-1 lead in the second round in 2015 against Houston and this season against Denver.
Most of the Clippers’ first playoff appearances can be explained by injuries or other mitigating circumstances. the two are undoubtedly the two coming 3-1. His best coaching job was the 2018-19 season, when he led a young group with no All-Stars and no playoff expectations in the eighth seed at the Western Conference and unexpectedly took on the Golden State Warriors in six games in the first round.
Eventually, Rivers won three playoff series in seven seasons with a roster in five of those years they were expected to compete. There is no way to spin it like anything but a huge disappointment.
But the impact of rivers on the Clippers can not purely measured by field results. It brought stability and reliability to an organization that had none before.
When he was looking to move from Boston after the dismissal of Kevin Garnett-Ray Allen-Paul Pierce Big Three, he could probably have any job he wanted. He chose the Clippers because they offered the biggest upside with Paul and Griffin locked up. That the Clippers could even I get A rider coach, and willing to pay for one, changed his perception of the championship.
During the 2014 playoffs, when TMZ posted a recording leak of then-Governor Sterling making racist comments, it was Rivers who kept the organization together with the result. He was the one who turned to journalists every day for a controversy that had no role in the creation. He was the one who kept his players together (them considered a boycott Game 4 of the first round series with the Warriors in response to the movie Sterling). He was the one who tried to maintain the morale of the employees throughout the organization.
The Clippers needed a reliable, trustworthy public figure as they reached one of the lowest points a professional franchise has ever reached. The river turned out in this work, and then some. A smaller coach – a smaller leader, in fact – may have handled it properly, or taken the opportunity to jump off the sunken ship. The rivers did not. And when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life and the league facilitated the sale of the Clippers to Ballmer, there was no talk of the new team captain bringing in a new manager. Rivers had proven that he was someone you wanted to represent your organization.
Jae C. Hong / Associated Press
When Rivers joined the Clippers in 2013, he was given the double titles of head coach and senior vice president of basketball operations.. After being promoted to president of the basketball business in 2014, this situation as the most powerful person in the organization below the level of ownership gave him the weight to lead the team through the destruction of Sterling.
The downside: It was not a very good GM.
As an executive, Rivers tended to go back to what he knew, signing old veterans he had coached (Pierce, Glen Davis, Brandon Bass) or coaches (Matt Barnes, Hedo Turkoglu, Stephen Jackson) in Boston. When the Clippers needed fresh bodies in the playoffs in those years, they never had the depth to compete. Any discussion of Rivers playoff deficiencies with the Clippers should include the role played by his own initiative in deciding to join these teams.
It is no coincidence that in the summer of 2017, when Ballmer removed Rivers ‘responsibilities to focus solely on training, the Clippers’ rosters began to make a lot more sense. The performance was the current 2018-19 season, led by Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell and rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Rivers’ responsibilities would have been too subtle to guide this group to their full potential if he still had his job in the office, and Lawrence Frank and Michael Winger were more than capable of building a quality roster.
That was the final chapter in Ballmer’s long-term quest to turn the Clippers into a destination, a real Lakers competitor, and seemed to work last summer when Kawhi Leonard signed with them into a free company, bringing Paul George with him through a blockbuster trade.
The fact that the Lakers are also looking for a superstar chose Clippers is a testament to how far the body had come in the years since Sterling’s ousting. And the Rivers were a huge part of that.
Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press
He is also one of the most NBA outstanding and reliable voices on social justice in the Orlando bubble. He has taken on a role as a leader in this field, as he did in the Clippers’ post-Sterling days.
It’s worrying, but it’s worth noting that after his departure, along with the fires earlier this summer of Indiana Pacers Nate McMillan and New Orleans Alvin Gentry, there are only four Black Head coaches in the NBA: Phoenix Suns’ Monty Williams , Atlanta Hawks ‘Lloyd Pierce, Cleveland Cavaliers’ JB Bickerstaff and Detroit Pistons Dwane Casey. With more (correct) consideration of diversity in the world of sports, the sudden departure of the longtime and most respected Black NBA coach is not good.
With the river gone, it is not clear where the Clippers will go to find his successor. The sensible move seems to be upgrading his top assistant, Tyronn Lue, a league coach on his own, who has been linked with all the top openings this year.
The rivers will be good. He will get another job as soon as he wants it (less than an hour after announcing his termination with the Clippers, The undefeated‘small Marc J. Spears reported that the Pelicans and Philadelphia 76 have already arrived). If he wanted a break from training, he could easily return to his old job as a TV analyst, in which he excelled.
Whatever Rivers decides to do next, he will have supporters in all corners of the basketball world. The Clippers’ disappointing playoff record over its time is a big part of its history, but it represents much more.
Sean Highkin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon and lives in Portland. His work has been honored by the Pro Basketball Writers Association. Follow him Twitter, Instagram and to B / R application.