After guiding the Los Angeles Clippers back to relevancy, the Doc Rivers era is over following a disappointing playoff run that fell short of championship expectations.
“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,” Rivers said in a statement. “While I was able to accomplish most of my goals, I won’t be able to see them all through.”
Before Rivers became Clippers coach, the organization made the playoffs only four times in 20 years. Under Rivers, the Clippers had a 356-208 record (.631 winning percentage), made the playoffs six times, and reached the Western Conference semifinals in 2014, 2015, and 2020.
Officially, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer and Rivers reached a “mutual decision” to part ways according to a press release, which drew a mixed reaction privately from executives around the league.
“Doc underachieved every year in L.A. but one (last year),” one Eastern Conference executive told HoopsHype. “This needed to happen so they could hopefully reach their potential. They need to win big next year with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George having player options. Lots of pressure there next year. Not many coaches out there would be able to handle that.”
“I heard whispers, but didn’t see it actually coming,” another Eastern Conference executive told HoopsHype. “There’s a ton of pressure on them next year.”
WHY DID RIVERS AND THE CLIPPERS PART WAYS?
When Ballmer introduced Leonard and George last year, it was clear the expectations were championship or bust for the Clippers.
Both Leonard and George are under contract for next season but have player options to become free agents after that. Next season could be the end of the championship window if expectations aren’t met. Adding more pressure to the situation is the fact that the Clippers don’t control their own first-round pick until 2027. Once the Clippers shockingly lost in the second round to a younger Nuggets team, Rivers’ job security was always uncertain.
Lue is interviewing with the Philadelphia 76ers for their coaching vacancy Tuesday, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The decision to part ways with Rivers one day before Lue’s interview could be because the Clippers want the team’s lead assistant coach to move into the head chair. In doing so, they’d be hiring a coach who has won a championship in a pressure situation after taking over from David Blatt in the middle of the season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Looks like there’s a good chance Ty gets it,” one executive told HoopsHype. “It definitely puts a lot of pressure on other teams that want him.”
Those other teams the executive alluded to include the New Orleans Pelicans and Houston Rockets. It’s worth noting Pelicans vice president David Griffin and Lue worked together with the Cavaliers and won a championship together.
Jeff Van Gundy
Along with Lue, Van Gundy is considered a Clippers and Rockets coaching candidate. The current ESPN broadcaster has not coached in the NBA since 2007. Van Gundy did, however, guide Team USA to the gold medal at the 2017 FIBA AmeriCup and qualified for the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
“I think people are saying JVG because of his connection to Lawrence Frank, but I don’t think Lawrence will be making this decision,” an executive told HoopsHype. “Jerry West and Ballmer will be.”
Dark Horse: Sam Cassell
If Lue ends up taking a job elsewhere, Cassell could emerge as a candidate for the Clippers. Though he doesn’t have any head coaching experience, that hasn’t mattered to championship teams much since 2015. Since then, Lue, Steve Kerr, and Nick Nurse won championships without any prior head coaching experience.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR RIVERS
The Pelicans and 76ers have already reached out to Rivers, per The Undefeated. The Rockets also have interest in Rivers, per the Houston Chronicle. Other suitors are likely to emerge for a player’s coach who has won a championship in Boston and guided a massive turnaround for a Clippers franchise that was irrelevant for decades.
According to ESPN, Rivers has two years on his Clippers contract remaining. With that in mind, he can afford to sit out next season and work in television if he chooses.
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto