Doc Rivers has been a consistent regular-season winner during his time as an NBA head coach, but the Clippers’ collapse from a 3-1 series lead in the 2020 playoffs was the final straw for his recent lack of postseason success, and L.A. parted ways with Rivers on Monday. He’s already been linked to multiple teams, including the 76ers and Pelicans, and the Thunder, Rockets and Pacers still need head coaches, too. There’s a strong possibility that Rivers will be back on a sideline when the 2020-21 NBA season gets underway.
A number of established coaches are available for hire this offseason besides Rivers, including Mike D’Antoni, Alvin Gentry, Nate McMillan, Brett Brown and Kenny Atkinson. Former head coaches and current ESPN broadcasters Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy will also see their names thrown into head-coaching speculation. Rivers possesses a regular-season record of 943-681 as coach of the Magic, Celtics and the Clippers, and he did coach the Celtics to the 2008 NBA title. If Rivers wants to coach next season, he might be the best option available.
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The biggest doubts surrounding Rivers will stem from his inability to reach the NBA Finals coaching Clippers teams led first by Chris Paul and then now with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. But with multiple talented rosters looking for an established head coach, Rivers is as likely as any available big-name coach to be re-hired.
Here are five possible landing spots for Rivers, with the 76ers and Pelicans reportedly leading the way.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers parted ways with Brett Brown after it seemed that “The Process” hadn’t quite turned them into an NBA Finals contender. There are bigger questions to answer in Philadelphia than just the head-coaching search, though. Whether Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons can co-exist remains unsolved. Embiid has also raised eyebrows during the playoffs with various tweets about Jimmy Butler, causing some to wonder whether Embiid will ask out of Philly.
Rivers has dealt with superstars before, although maybe not with quite the personality of Embiid. Even if the 76ers can keep the whole band together for another year, they have to know their current window is closing, so they’ll be looking for a veteran coach to quickly move them in the right direction. Of the available coaches, Rivers might be best suited to handle the current Philadelphia roster.
On the floor, Rivers would already have familiarity with Tobias Harris, who he coached in L.A. before Harris was traded to Philly. Additionally, it’d be easy to dream on Rivers taking the Blake Griffin-like parts of Ben Simmons’ skill set and maximizing them the way Rivers did with Griffin on the Clippers. Of course, the key to Philadelphia’s success next season will hinge on Embiid — so if Rivers goes to Philly, he’ll have to win over and effectively use his big man.
2. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans are one of the most promising teams in the NBA. With Zion Williamson, Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday (along with the potential to re-sign Brandon Ingram), New Orleans is positioned to be a contender in the Western Conference for years. Rivers would have to accept a step back in current quality from his Clippers and Celtics teams that were, for the most part, loaded with already developed stars. Going to New Orleans would require Doc to help fill out the development of young players such as Williamson, Ball, Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
Just as with Simmons in Philadelphia, Rivers could likely utilize many of his same Blake Griffin strategies when it comes to maximizing Williamson. The Pelicans could appeal to the former guard Rivers by featuring not one but two high-level point guards in Ball and Holiday, after Rivers most recently dealt with the likes of Patrick Beverly and Reggie Jackson with the Clippers.
For the Pelicans to make sense for Rivers, he’ll have to decide whether he can deal with a year or two of development before New Orleans really peaks, as opposed to maybe the quicker path to winning that exists in Philadelphia.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder parted with Billy Donovan in the offseason, and Oklahoma City could be looking for a veteran NBA coach rather than dipping into the college ranks like it did with Donovan. Rivers’ desire for this job would depend on the state of his relationship with Chris Paul, who he coached on those “Lob City” Clippers teams. There’d certainly be a built-in familiarity between coach and point guard if Rivers took this position.
Rivers’ two most recent jobs were in Boston and Los Angeles. It’s not clear whether he’d be interested in going to the smaller market that is Oklahoma City, where attracting free agents can be a bit more difficult than Rivers might be used to. But there’s already a built-in succession plan on the Clippers roster for when Paul retires or moves on, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander equipped to be an All-Star point guard down the road. If Rivers sees himself staying in one place for four or five years, Oklahoma City could be the spot — between Gilgeous-Alexander and nearly $50 million in open cap space after the 2020-21 season, Rivers has a chance to build a contender with the Thunder.
4. Houston Rockets
Whether Rivers is a fit with the Rockets depends on whether Houston hopes to keep much of Mike D’Antoni’s space-and-pace system in place even with his departure. Rivers coaches a different offensive structure and usually utilizes a traditional center (which doesn’t even really exist on the current Houston roster), so there’d have to be a drastic shift in team style for Rivers to make sense in Houston.
The appeal of the Rockets’ job is obvious: James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Rivers could appreciate the challenge of trying to make those two superstars mesh better than D’Antoni could. Rivers could also see the chance to trade Westbrook for other assets that he’d like playing more with Harden. Other than Embiid, Harden is the biggest talent that Rivers could join up with this offseason.
Rivers would also get to coach his son, Austin, if he takes over the Houston job, so how much do father and son get along?
5. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers raised their stock as a landing spot through their play in the bubble. T.J. Warren showed himself as a true leading scorer, and the backcourt pairing of Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo could appeal greatly to Rivers as a former NBA guard. And the Pacers didn’t even have Domantas Sabonis in the bubble, so there’s upside to this group, too.
There’s a lot more money on the books for this roster in 2021-22, though. That means Rivers would have to really like the current Indiana roster construction to take this job, and it’s possible the Pacers will go with more of a developmental or even college coach to pair with their young roster.