Doc Rivers’ departure from the LA Clippers is the latest in a series of moves across the NBA that have contributed to one of the wildest coaching carousels in memory. With so many head coaches on the market and jobs open, here are 10 NBA head coaching candidates that the Clippers could consider to replace Rivers.

There are any number of qualified candidates across the NBA, WNBA, NCAA, international, and NBA G-League ranks who could potentially emerge as a serious candidate for a head coaching vacancy, and even narrowing the list down to bigger names and serious contenders leaves us with far more than 10 potential candidates for head coaching jobs in the near future. Here’s a run-down of NBA head coaching candidates, ranked according to a combination of my preference and likelihood that they’ll land the job:

“Oh Hell no”: Former Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson, Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Jason Kidd.

Honorable Mention: Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Stephen Silas, New Orleans Pelicans associate head coach Chris Finch, Michigan Wolverines head coach Juwan Howard (who has said he isn’t pursuing NBA jobs), Vanderbilt Commodores head coach Jerry Stackhouse, former Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni, former Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy.

10. Gregg Popovich: Like I said, we’re starting with the least likely. It’s hard to imagine Pop anywhere other than San Antonio, as he has been the Spurs’ head coach since 1996 and won 5 NBA titles, including the 2014 championship where Kawhi Leonard won his first NBA Finals MVP. Undoubtedly one of the greatest coaches in the history of the league, Popovich is 71 years old, still in place in San Antonio, and there’s no indication that a departure is forthcoming–but after rumors floated that the Brooklyn Nets could attempt to lure him for one final contending project before his retirement. Now that Brooklyn’s vacancy has been filled by Steve Nash, could the Clippers make a play? It’s very unlikely, but Steve Ballmer is the kind of owner who likes to make unlikely things happen when he gets his mind set on them–look no further than the team’s star pairing of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, or his purchase of the Inglewood Forum to clear the way for a new LAC arena.

9. Udonis Haslem: After winning titles with the Miami Heat and becoming a franchise legend with 16 seasons on the roster, Haslem has scarcely played in recent seasons and provided locker room leadership as a glorified assistant coach. He’s played just 7 minutes per game in 81 total games over the last 5 years, and saw over half of his 44 minutes this season in the Heat’s final bubble game as they rested players. The Heat are currently in the NBA Finals for the sixth time in Haslem’s tenure, having won the 2006, 2012, and 2013 titles. During this run, he’s been credited as being an anchor of “Heat culture,” and has frequently been seen on TV leading timeouts during the playoffs. It’s unlikely that a team–especially in the Clippers’ position–would hand the head coaching job to someone who was technically an active NBA player this year, but if LAC needs leadership and an improved locker room culture, surrounding Haslem with more experienced assistants (like Alvin Gentry and/or Nate McMillan) could make for a workable staff.

8. Becky Hammon: If you can’t get Popovich, why not poach from his staff? Hammon is one of the best WNBA players ever, and has been a pioneer for women coaching in the NBA since joining the Spurs’ staff in 2014. Her CV speaks for itself more loudly than any endorsement could, but it’s clear that she has earned the respect of players as well, as Pau Gasol wrote that “Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball. Period.” Hammon seems likely to be a NBA head coach someday, and will probably be the first woman to ever fill the role, but she’s gained little momentum in hiring conversations in recent years. While there’s no doubt that sexism creates significant obstacles for women in sports, it can also be fairly argued that a number of other, higher-profile assistants have compiled longer tenures. The notion of a “line” existing is a bit silly–Steve Nash getting hired to coach a contender in Brooklyn is just the latest example–but it does seem based on league chatter that Hammon is still a few years from being a true finalist for an opening.

7. Jeff Van Gundy: Due to his TV appearances, Van Gundy is a perennial rumored head coaching candidate who never seriously gains traction for any openings. JVG had a successful enough tenure as a head coach–a 57.5% winning percentage in 11 years, 9 playoff appearances, 7 series wins, and an NBA Finals Appearance–to get another job in the NBA… just not a good enough job to lure him out of the broadcasting booth. And the jobs that might actually have brought him back to coaching went to stronger candidates. Remember, for all the criticism that Doc Rivers has gotten with the Clippers, that Rivers has a better regular season and playoff win percentage with over twice as many games coached as Van Gundy in each category, and where Van Gundy has one finals loss, Rivers has two finals appearances and a championship to his name. Most importantly with Van Gundy, though, is that he hasn’t coached an NBA game since 2007, before the three-point revolution. It’s possible that a relationship could land Van Gundy an actual interview for this opening, but the Clippers should find a more creative option.

6. Chauncey Billups: If the Clippers don’t look to their own bench for a replacement (spoilers), they might look to their own broadcast booth. After retiring from the NBA in 2014, Billups announced this summer that he was finally ready to start pursuing head coaching vacancies around the NBA, and he immediately became a candidate for a number of vacancies. Remember how I said the notion of a “line” was a bit silly? Yeah. But it’s understandable why teams would want Billups, a future Hall of Famer who won NBA Finals MVP in 2004 playing point guard for the Detroit Pistons. Chauncey would bring leadership, championship pedigree, and the perspective of someone who was close to the team last season but not directly involved in the debacle that was the team’s coaching staff. Still, I think Chauncey is going to have a stop as a prominent assistant before getting a head coaching job–and if the front office highly regarded him as a coaching prospect, it feels like they probably would have found a spot for him on the staff last season instead of putting him on broadcasts.

5. David Vanterpool: One of the most prominent assistants in the NBA, Vanterpool played and coached under the legendary Ettore Messina in Europe, and then became an assistant coach for the Blazers in 2012 where he worked closely with Damian Lillard to help the young star blossom before moving to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ bench last year. Known for his defensive acumen and strong player development skills, Vanterpool is widely considered one of the NBA assistant coaches highest on head coaching lists–but is he a good fit with the Clippers? LA isn’t quite in a position where they’re in need of a coach who is willing to come in and work closely with young players and focus on development. This team needs a leader who can make adjustments over the course of a playoff series to get them to a title. If Vanterpool ends up on the Clippers’ shortlist, he’ll have to use his interview to prove that he has what it takes to win in big moments in addition to his stellar day-in, day-out reputation.

4. Sam Cassell: If the Clippers are open to hiring from within their own staff and consider Rivers’ assistants as potential replacements, Cassell figures to get an interview. A high-profile NBA point guard through the 90s and 2000s, including playing a crucial role on LAC’s 2006 playoff run, Cassell has been an assistant coach since retiring in 2009 and joined the Clippers’ staff in 2014. Cassell has only received fledgling head coach interest at this point, most notably for the current Houston Rockets vacancy. Sam was drafted by the Rockets and was on the team for their 1995 title run, siphoning minutes from starter Kenny Smith as the finals went on after a 31-point performance in game 2. While Sam should be a legitimate candidate for the Clippers, it feels hard to find an argument for hiring him over fellow assistant Ty Lue, who has significant playoff experience as a head coach.

3. Dan Craig: Ok, here’s my left-field suggestion. Dan Craig, who lots of folks have probably never heard of, could be the kind of sneakily effective hire for the Clippers that Nick Nurse was for the Toronto Raptors and Erik Spoelstra was for the Miami Heat. Spoelstra, of course, started in Miami as a video coordinator and worked in the organization for 13 years before being promoted to head coach, where he’s become regarded as one of the best coaches in the league (if not the best). It only makes sense to look at the best’s right-hand man, and Craig followed a similar path to get to this point, starting with the Heat as a video intern in the 2003-04 season before working his way up through the video room staff, player development staff, and finally coaching staff. In a one-year detour, the Heat assigned Craig to coach their G-League affiliate–he broke the league record with a 40-10 finish in 50 games, won Coach of the Year, and won a championship. Craig hasn’t been mentioned a lot in rumors, but he should be the first call for any team looking for a young, innovative coach who can bring a slice of Heat culture after this awesome Miami run. The Clippers do love to surprise us.

2. Ime Udoka: While he isn’t still Popovich’s understudy in San Antonio, Udoka is seen as the most prominent Pop protege on the NBA’s coaching market. He sat on the Spurs’ bench from 2012-2019 after briefly playing for the team, and was widely thought of as the assistant most likely to inherit the head coaching position when Popovich retired until he departed to play a role on Brett Brown’s bench in Philadelphia last summer (he’s still likely to get mentioned for the Spurs job when Popovich retires). Ime has been a candidate for almost every head coaching opening this summer, and still has a strong shot of finding a HC job with so many openings remaining. He probably is going to go to a younger, middle-tier team, maybe in New Orleans, Indiana, or Oklahoma City, but he’s one of the most prominent first-time head coaching candidates on the market right now and would likely get the opportunity to impress the Clippers in an interview if they conduct a full, thorough search.

1. Tyronn Lue: The rest of this list is a combination of preference, intuition, and gossip, but Lue at #1 is hard to argue with. If you’re looking for a coach with championship pedigree, well, there’s two available, active coaches who have won an NBA title: Doc Rivers and Ty Lue. The Clippers just fired the first guy, and the second guy is already in the organization as Rivers’ top assistant. Before Rivers’ firing, Lue was almost a lock to leave the team this off-season as the top coaching candidate on the market. Now, he’s the heavy favorite to take over the new best opening in the league with the Clippers. It can be a little hard to get too excited over Lue’s great success on paper–three years in Cleveland with higher than 60% of his games won and 11 playoff series wins (1 championship and 2 finals losses)–because he had LeBron James on his team. When James left the Cavaliers, the team started the next season 0-6 and Lue was quickly let go. But while the context of James’ long track record of dominating the league is important, Lue wasn’t just some guy. He made a good name for himself as a head coach working with superstars, and was even able to confront James during games and go away from high-profile star Kevin Love when matchups required.

And while James is likely the best NBA player ever, he isn’t an automatic championship. During LeBron’s first stint with the Cavaliers, the team made just one finals appearance (a loss) in 5 years under Mike Brown. Even during his nearly-constant appearances since, James has lost the large majority of his finals series, winning three times: twice with the star-studded Miami Heat under Erik Spoelstra, and this title with Lue. We gotta give Ty at least some credit here.

If the Clippers conduct a full, honest search, Lue will have the most impressive credentials but could lose out to an impressive interview from another candidate. Remember, Lue is one of three guys who won a championship as a rookie head coach in the last several years (along with Steve Kerr and Nick Nurse). If the Clippers believe in their front office (as they do), they could try to add another name to that list with a first-time head coach. They could also choose to go away from Ty due to his prominent role in the team’s disastrous 2020 performance. But don’t take a delay as a sign that the team is seriously rejecting Lue–the Clippers very clearly went to significant lengths to make Rivers’ departure look amicable and mutual, and promoting his assistant immediately would be poor decorum in NBA coaching circles. It’s even possible that in lieu of a formal search, Lue’s hiring is a foregone conclusion, and he’ll be promoted in a couple of weeks (perhaps with a short list and some other interviews as a formality–or to find candidates to take on Lue’s former position as associate head coach, where former Clippers assistant and recently-fired Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry would be a stellar addition). We’ll just have to wait and see.

213Hoops is an independently owned and operated L.A. Clippers blog by Clippers fans, for Clippers fans. If you enjoy our content, please consider subscribing to our Patreon. Subscriptions start at $1 a month and support from readers like you goes a long way towards helping us keep 213Hoops sustainable, growing, and thriving.

Lucas Hann

Lucas Hann

Lucas has covered the Clippers since 2011, and has been credentialed by the team since 2014. He co-founded 213Hoops with Robert Flom in January 2020.  He is a graduate of Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, CA and St. John's University in Queens, NY.  He earned his MA in Communication and Rhetorical Studies from Syracuse University.

31 Comments

  • Avatar Carlo T says:

    I think the ty lou + gentry combo is probably the best solution. Lou has shown he can manage superstars, and gentry can hopefully bring some schematic creativity on offense.

  • Avatar Clipperbank says:

    Kenny Atkinson not even an Honorable Mention?

  • Avatar osamu6238 says:

    Right now my list is probably something like:
    1. Pop (completely unrealistic in my mind, but hey, have to at least make the call right?)
    2. JVG
    3. Relatively unknown 1st time coach (I do like the names mentioned, Dan Craig, Hammon, & Vanterpool)
    4. Joerger
    ….. probably a lot of other people
    then all the former players/current Clippers staffers
    20. Ty Lue
    21. Cassell
    22. Billups

    No offense to the “incumbents” in Lue, Cassell, and sort of Billups, but I think they need a bigger shake up, and these guy have to take some blame for the loss this year (well not Billups obviously). Just not a lot of confidence in these guys. Lue might be a little interesting, but still comes from the Doc coaching tree which I think we need to move away from. If he did get the job, I would still want a huge shake up in the assistants.

  • Avatar TheGreatestShowman says:

    The timing seems to suggest Ty Lue. Otherwise, why not wait until after the Finals at least. Some have mentioned the PR angle but it’s not like our franchise to just make splashes for the sake of it.

    That said, we know nothing is telegraphed and so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s some crazy left field hire or even Pop.

    • Avatar dhpat says:

      True, the Clippers Front Office does not make moves on a whim, nor do funny business. I’m ok with Ty Lue and Alvin Gentry. I’m sure that Doc would be ok with his former assistant in taking over the Clippers. It would preserve some continuity in this period of change, and the league probably would be accepting.
      To the comment that Ty Lue or Sam Cassell should take some of the blame for Doc’s inability to change — that is not realistic.
      One of our members posted a few weeks ago that the Clippers offense looked so much better when Coach Gentry was directing; esp.. off the ball movement.

      • Avatar TheGreatestShowman says:

        Yeah, back in Lob City the Gentry offense had off-ball action to compliment the on-ball. I wouldn’t want him as HC but Gentry is fine assistance. Doc handing the baton to Lue makes for a good and convenient story, but I wonder if it’s enough of change to actually improve our performance.

      • Avatar KingAlfonse says:

        Yeah, I understand wanting to clean house, but Lue can only say “I think you should do this”. Doc is going to Doc and what he did to cost Clips vs. Nuggs was textbook Doc.

    • Avatar Based Freestyle says:

      “Otherwise, why not wait until after the Finals at least.”

      Why wait any longer to get started on the coaching search? Especially with the short, uncertain offseason.

  • Darius Miles Forever Darius Miles Forever says:

    Trez’s playstyle will fit better in the small-ball Eastern Conference rather than in the Western Conference where many team have a gigantic front court.

    He’s still valuable for EAST teams or lottery teams. Hope they will sign & trade him after hiring a new coach.

    • Avatar chogokin says:

      I think Charlotte should take a shot on him – it’s closer to home for him, and they’ve basically got no expectations.

  • Avatar jbugs says:

    Vanterpool and Craig sound like interesting options (as presented here). I don’t really understand how great coaches are found and what they look like prior to achieving “great coach” status. I had no idea spoelstra was a great coach until after lebron left. And I didn’t know Doc was not a great coach until about year 2 or 3 of watching him up close. I’m sure this FO will not completely botch this.

    What I would like to see in the next coach are the following traits (in order of priority):

    1. Player development skills – contrary to the staff’s beliefs, I think player development will be key to the long-term success of this franchise. Being in LA, we will likely be able to attract stars/talent. We also have a fantastic FO and one of the best owners in sports, so I believe this team will be able to make moves (small or big) to win trades and find the right fitting players to maximize on whatever phase the team is in in its pursuit of a dynastic (1 ring should not be the goal). If that’s the case, a coach that can take the players it has been provided by the FO, to develop them into more valuable assets will be key to weaponizing the FO and making moves that will get us the best talent and, by way of the FO’s brilliance, the best fitting players. If we are going to 10-20 year run, it needs to be with the ability to find undervalued guys, either through the draft or through trades/FA and making them great. Between, Jokic, Nurkic, Murray, MPJ, Barton, and Harris, look at what Denver has been able to accomplish in the current era. Imagine if they were an FA destination with the wealthiest owner in sports. More important than being able to attract Kawhi Leonard is the ability to draft him at 15 and develop him into an MVP caliber player. Doc couldn’t ever do this. I want to make sure the next coach can.

    2. Ability to improvise/grow throughout playoffs – after watching a ton of basketball the past couple of weeks, I’m so envious of teams with coaches who are able to scheme to their opponents. Not only does it often result in winning basketball, it’s got to be so fun as a fan to watch your team pull wins out of unlikely situations due to brilliance. It’s the same reason spiderman is my favorite super hero. He is always outmatched on paper (sandman, doc oc, venom, lizard…etc), but he always manages to win using his wits. After the past couple of years, I just want a change of pace from doc. The worst case of doc not being able to counter punch will always be the Joe Johnson Utah series. If I remember correctly, we watched an old Joe Johnson completely demolish Blake and CP, who were supposed to both be top 10 players at the time, using the same play over and over again.

    3. Focus on discipline – to me, discipline here means 3 things: minimizing turnovers, rebounding, and defense. IMO, these are 3 areas where I feel this team should be doing better than it has in important games. With our personnel, I feel like we should be leading the league in these categories. We always should have been focused on protecting and maximizing possessions. While getting to the line and having much better ball movement are also super important, I really want to see our team take each possession super seriously, by rebounding like hell, preventing the other team from scoring (which we were able to do at times), and simply never turning the ball over. Mastering these areas should have the effect of demoralizing other teams, without reverting to cheaper tactics (like trying to draw fouls, which I’ll concede is still smart/highly effective, but painful to watch) or vastly improving our ball movement, which I think we simply don’t have the personnel for (80% of this teams passes are outside of the shooting pocket’s of the recipients. I don’t know if these guys can improve their passing/ball movement and I’ve felt this was going to be an issue immediately after the PG trade last year). This version of the Clippers team should be playing slow and physical. This type of play is ideal for creating culture and developing young players. Smooth offense will come with the right personnel. For now, I think we need a coach that will maximize this roster. I’d love to hear from anybody here if/how they think this roster could improve offensively. I just don’t see it being possible without some major moves.

    • Lucas Hann Lucas Hann says:

      I don’t think player development is unimportant, but I think you can get player development from other spots on your staff as well. In-game decision making is the most important skill for a head coach. Denver’s development, as you noted, is excellent, but also comes from Wes Unseld Jr and Chris Finch and the rest of the crew there. It’s the entire organization, same in Toronto. And Vanterpool has been noted as one of the best player development coaches in the world, all while doing his work as an assistant.

      So, yes, player development is great and the Clippers should continue investing in it. Turning Terance Mann into a rotation-caliber player would be pretty significantly helpful for this team’s chances in the next 3-5 years. But if the two candidates are “guy who has a track record helping young players grow” and “guy who has a track record making adjustments and winning playoff series,” I’ll take the second guy as my head coach and the first guy as an assistant for this Clippers team. The first guy should be the head coach for like OKC or New Orleans.

      • Avatar jbugs says:

        I guess it comes down to what your goals are. I believe you stated multiple times that the goal should be to win a championship, even if it means the following years are weak teams. If I had to choose between that scenario (the cavs scenario) or a scenario where we are good for a decade (multiple championship and conference finals appearances) without actually winning a ring, I’d choose the latter. I think that it takes a ton of luck to win a championship (that cavs team that got over the hump needed a ton of breaks), but perennial contention breads long term sustainability and increases the odds of us winning more over the long term (and hopefully getting lucky enough to win one or multiple championships). IMO, the path to true perennial contention (the kind that keeps me consistently engaged, hopeful and excited as a fan) requires great drafting and great player development. Having that skillset would carry the team farther in terms of the goal I’ve laid out in comparison to being in-game strategist, which may be more of a skillset necessary to create your own luck rather than capitalize on it. Both are important. I’m personally fine with not winning a championship in the near future, as long as we are building the most respectable franchise in the game.

  • Avatar Jonathan Eng says:

    My qualities for the right head coach for this team:

    1) Attention to detail – the coach needs to be able to synthesize all data available whether it is through analytics and film to be able to make adjustments on a game to game basis and look at the good things the team does and continue it and willing to change if bad things are seen.

    2) Flexibiility/Accountability – The coach needs to be flexible enough to take inputs from the assistants even if it they go against his/her natural instincts because it is for the betterment of the team’s success. That’s humility in willing to set aside ego in order to win. The coach also needs to not only take accountability for failures instead of blame-shifting. Mike Malone said after losing game 3 or 4 or whatever it was when MPJ called him out, said that he (Malone) needed to do better to put the team in better positions to succeed (this was made independent of the MPJ comments). I never once heard Doc say anything to the degree that he needed to do better after losses until after game 7. The coach also needs to be able to hold players accountable from 1 thru 15. He/she cannot play favorites and needs to be able to Kawhi and PG accountable as much as he/she would for Pat Pat or Mann.

    3) Creativity – The coach needs to be able to make adjustments in the moment and recognize things when things are not working and proactively make adjustments before it becomes too late. One of Doc’s best strengths as a coach was his creativity in his ATOs. The next coach may not be able to live up to that, but in terms of lineup decisions and making creative adjustments and schemes, and having the ability to mix things up with more tools in his/her bag would be better.

    4) Solid System – Having a solid offensive and defensive system is of utmost importance. Also this would include practice and not taking the regular season for granted, but using that time as time to try different things to build chemistry and get reps for the players and holding players accountable to follow the system.

    5) Not forsake player development – Doc’s main issues include relying on older veterans who are washed instead of trying to include player development. I know there is a hard balance, but player development is crucial to filling in the gaps in weaknesses on this team. SAS and GSW did awesome in developing players to supplement their championship cores. Even this year, with Miami having Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro playing significant roles show that Spoelstra not only puts his young guys in the position to succeed, but also gives them the confidence to do so. Under Doc, player development for the years we were contenders was so bad.

  • Avatar TheGreatestShowman says:

    Based on the ESPN Momo/Ohm article, I think Lou is as good as gone. Great read along with Jovan’s article on some of the behind the scenes happenings.

    • Lucas Hann Lucas Hann says:

      I trust Jovan’s article a little more, just based on the connections each outlet has and the smell test on some of the anti-Ballmer hints from ESPN.

      • Avatar TheGreatestShowman says:

        Yeah, there definitely some not so subtle jabs but I think the take on disappointment about Lou and his general disengagement in the bubble smelled right.

        Don’t want to spoil Jovan’s work but his take on our joylessness is spot on.

        • Avatar Goons 1 says:

          Maybe I gotta give it a 2nd read but I didn’t take it as jabs at Steve

          • Lucas Hann Lucas Hann says:

            It wasn’t a hit piece but they are laying the groundwork to call him a controlling/micromanaging owner, stepped in and fired a coach over protests from FO and players, etc etc. This will be the narrative when Clips struggle.

          • Avatar Goons 1 says:

            Can’t reply to your message Lucas but I can def see what you’re saying about laying the groundwork which is what I took from it initially.. & IF they do happen to struggle, the media could/would definitely circle back to this article

  • Avatar John Maclean says:

    A new coach definitely changes the calculous in terms of needing to make a panic-mode superstar point guard acquisition. With an actual system someone that’s just damn good may be enough. I’d forgotten about Ricky Rubio as an option. Affordable, reliable and an excellent defender too.

    Unless there was some other, non-basketball reason (???) Ballmer didn’t let Doc go to make a lateral move. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he’s on the phone with a number of teams trying to pry someone elite away from them.

    In the early 2000s there was a round-robin of available coaches who’d at least made or even won the finals available. Pat Riley, George Karl, Rudy T, Rick Adelman, Nellie, Larry Brown. As of now it seems like there’s only JVG in this class who’s shockingly still only 58 years old. But I fear he runs his mouth too much like Doc did. I like him, but that’s the one concern I have.

  • Avatar osamu6238 says:

    Dang Gasol off the market. He was one FA that I thought really could make a difference on this team.

  • Avatar TheGreatestShowman says:

    Doc to the Clippers East is too good of a fit…