A season that started so promising for the Clippers ended in crushing disappointment with L.A. bowing out in the Western Conference semis, collapsing in stunning fashion after holding a 3-1 series lead over third-seeded Denver.
Armed to the hilt with megastars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George along with complementary pieces Montrezl Harrell (recently honored as the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year), Lou Williams and Marcus Morris, the company line in Los Angeles was championship or bust. After falling well short of expectations, the Clippers are shaking things up by parting ways with longtime coach Doc Rivers. The bombshell announcement was first tweeted by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and later confirmed by Rivers himself.
“When I took this job, my goals were to make this a winning basketball program, a free agent destination and bring a championship to this organization. While I was able to accomplish most of my goals, I won’t be able to see them all through,” said Rivers, reflecting on his Clippers tenure in a message to fans. “Though it was a disappointing ending to our season, you are right there and I know what this team is capable of accomplishing with your support.” Rivers went on to thanks players, coaches and staff, adding that he was grateful for the seven years he spent in Los Angeles.
Assuming Rivers wants to continue coaching, the 58-year-old should immediately vault to the top of every team’s wish list. Eleventh in career wins, Rivers’ teams have reached the playoffs in 16 of his 21 seasons as an NBA head coach. A former point guard who spent the majority of his 13-year playing career with the Atlanta Hawks, Rivers recently made headlines for his passionate response to the Jacob Blake tragedy in Wisconsin. No stranger to managing superstar talent, Doc has coached Kawhi, Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin among other current and future Hall of Famers.
One of the most respected coaches of his era, Rivers has reached the Finals twice, winning his lone title with the Boston Celtics in 2008. Most teams have already filled their vacancies, but a number of high-profile openings remain including outposts in Houston, Indiana, New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Philadelphia. In Houston, Rivers would have the opportunity to coach his son Austin along with perennial All-Stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Reuniting with Paul in OKC or overseeing Zion Williamson’s development with the Pelicans (who, along with the 76ers, have already expressed interest) would also be enticing opportunities for Rivers, who has coached in the league every year since 1999.
It’s unclear who the Clippers have in mind for Doc’s replacement (possibilities include Mike D’Antoni, former Bucks coach Jason Kidd and either of the Van Gundy brothers), though Sam Cassell and Tyronn Lue would be the obvious candidates if Los Angeles chooses to stay in-house.