This time last year, Doc Rivers was coming off a season some labeled as the best coaching job of his career, and he led the title-contending Los Angeles Clippers who promised to revive the Battle for L.A. One Los Angeles team made the NBA Finals, but it isn’t the Clippers. Rivers isn’t returning for his eighth season with the team.
Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Clippers aren’t bringing Rivers back for the 2020-21 season. Steve Ballmer’s team joins several other contenders searching for new coaches, including the Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, and Philadelphia 76ers. The Clippers went 49-23 this season, finishing second in the Western Conference. However, Kawhi Leonard’s team fell short of the Western Conference Finals, losing to Denver in the Semifinals.
Coach Doc Rivers is out with the Clippers, sources tell ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) September 28, 2020
The 3-4 second-round elimination came as a shocking blow to a Clippers team that seemed primed for a championship run. The organization signed Kawhi Leonard, who had just won a title with the Toronto Raptors, this past offseason, and traded a king’s ransom for Paul George. Rivers’ roster also featured three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.
With one of the deepest benches in the NBA, the Clippers were in championship-or-bust territory. Fans couldn’t wait to see the Clippers take on LeBron James’ Lakers in the Conference Finals, but the dream matchup never materialized. Instead, Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray booted the lesser L.A. team out of the bubble.
The Athletic’s Shams Charania described a bleak situation after the surprising defeat. George tried to preach to his teammates about staying dedicated and returning for another run, but his appeal was “met be some eye rolls and bewilderment.” Several Clippers become unrestricted free agents this coming offseason, including Harrell, Reggie Jackson, and Marcus Morris Sr.
With the season and locker room lost, Clippers management decided it needed a new voice at head coach to rally a roster led by two max contract players. George’s and Leonard’s deals run through 2022, tying them to Los Angeles for another two years. Two years remained on Rivers’ deal, meaning the organization could’ve kept him around through 2022 as well. However, it became clear the team needed new leadership.
The Clippers need results as soon as possible, even if it means scrapping their long-time coach that guided the organization through several shaky situations.
Rivers confirmed his departure with a statement on Twitter. He leaves Los Angeles with a 356-208 record and the most wins in franchise history.
— doc rivers (@DocRivers) September 28, 2020
During the Lob City era, where Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and Chris Paul led a highlight reel offense, Rivers failed to reach the Conference Finals. Since losing 3-4 to James’ Miami Heat during the 2011-12 season, Rivers hasn’t reached a Conference Finals.
Per Wojnarowski, Clippers assistant coach Tyronn Lue and former head coach Jeff Van Gundy are two leading candidates for the vacant position. Lue previously coached James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to three NBA Finals appearances while Van Gundy hasn’t coached in over a decade.
As for Rivers, ESPN’s Marc Spears reports that he’s already received calls from the New Orleans Pelicans and Philadelphia 76ers. Philadelphia boasts two All-Stars that came within one clutch shot of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2018-19 season. Meanwhile, the Pelicans are a young team hoping to build around the core of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Zion Williamson. New Orleans also features J.J. Redick, who spent several seasons with Rivers in Los Angeles.