According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has been fired and will not return to the team next season.
Rivers offered the following thank you to Clippers fans–and while I had argued that Rivers ought to be fired, it is worth a good amount of appreciation that he led this team through the Donald Sterling saga and into the Steve Ballmer era. Despite his shortcomings in the postseason, Rivers played as huge a role in turning the Clippers franchise around as Chris Paul or Blake Griffin.
Rivers oversaw the best seven-year stretch in team history, going 356-208 (.631) in 564 regular season games and making the playoffs six out of seven years. However, it was what happened in the playoffs that gave Rivers a well-deserved bad reputation: despite having enormously talented teams, Rivers only won three playoff series in seven years and, in historically embarrassing fashion, infamously blew not one but two 3-1 leads in the second round to prevent the franchise from advancing to their first-ever Conference Finals appearance.
The first instance was in 2015 against the Houston Rockets, and the latter came just two weeks ago, as the heavily-favored Clippers blew three straight double-digit leads in games 5, 6, and 7 to lose to the Denver Nuggets, who were then promptly dispatched in 5 games in the Western Conference Finals by the Los Angeles Lakers.
Against Denver, Rivers’ coaching was the team’s clearest weakness: they had no coherent gameplan defensively and no cohesion on offense, utilized horrific lineup rotations that the Nuggets gleefully exploited, and lacked the leadership and poise to win games in the face of runs from their opponents–the opposite of what the LA Lakers and Miami Heat did in closeout games en route to being the NBA’s two finalists.
It’s been a massive summer for the NBA’s coaching carousel, and Rivers is just the latest in a slew of playoff coaches–including Oklahoma City’s Billy Donovan (who has since signed with Chicago), Houston’s Mike D’Antoni, Indiana’s Nate McMillan, and Philadelphia’s Brett Brown–to be on the market.
The tricky part about firing a head coach is finding a replacement who is better than him. For years, that’s been the talking point with Rivers: he makes mistakes, but he brings a lot of good things to the table as well, and who would you replace him with? But that argument has grown tired as the league watched the Golden State Warriors fire Mark Jackson and become one of the league’s greatest dynasties under Steve Kerr, followed by the Cleveland Cavaliers firing David Blatt and winning a title under Ty Lue and then the Toronto Raptors firing Dwane Casey and winning a title under Nick Nurse. All three of those incumbents oversaw successful seasons and playoff appearances, but each team improved under a first-time NBA head coach and won a title after the change.
The Clippers will hope to replicate that formula, which means staying away from retreads who have proven to be not championship-level head coaches, such as the aforementioned group of guys on the market. The most obvious name for the Clippers to consider is Lue, who wound up as Rivers’ number 1 assistant after leaving Cleveland, but if the staff’s performance was poor enough that Doc Rivers was fired by the Clippers, expect them to look elsewhere. Potential candidates could include some of the league’s top assistants, like Spurs assistant Ime Udoka, who has been linked to head coaching vacancies across the league, or a member of the staff of the overachieving Miami Heat–perhaps Dan Craig, who followed Erik Spoelstra’s footsteps from assistant video coordinator all the way to the bench (winning an NBA G-League title along the way), or veteran big Udonis Haslem, who has essentially been an assistant coach in recent years.
While we await further word on the team’s off-season plans, the big news is here: Doc Rivers has been fired by the LA Clippers, and a different coach will be at the helm as they vie for redemption next season.