Doc Rivers was the Clippers head coach for seven seasons. It seems like he has been around for longer than that, not just because he also suited up for the Clippers during his playing career, but because of the outsized role he played as the face of the organization.
When the Donald Sterling audio leaked in April 2014, Rivers spoke for the Clippers. He was the sounding board for players to air their feelings about playing for Sterling and what to do next. He spoke with season-ticket holders and addressed protesters at the team’s business office. He helped move the franchise forward.
Just over a month ago, Rivers was the mouthpiece of the NBA before the wildcat strike in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake. His words about the fear Black people feel resonated not just within the basketball community, but beyond, and the NBPA President Chris Paul asked Rivers to speak during the players meeting that decided the future of the season. No other coaches were called upon, just Rivers.
The Clippers — and the Spurs, where Rivers also played — are unique among NBA franchises in that the person they are most closely associated with is their coach. David Bernal made that point on the Clips Nation podcast the day before the team was eliminated by Denver, and used that as justification for why Rivers was safe no matter what happened in the playoffs.
Suffice to say, the esteem with which Rivers was regarded within the organization and around the league as a whole wasn’t enough to keep Rivers around. Despite reports within the last two weeks that Rivers would be back, the Clippers announced Monday that Steve Ballmer and the former head coach had reached a mutual decision that Rivers would step down. His latest playoff collapse proved too much to overcome, and the Clippers will presumably look for a proven head coach to shepherd a championship contender to its full potential next season.
For as well as he carried himself off the court, the decisions Rivers made during the games weren’t good enough. The Clippers had what was universally regarded as the most talented team in the league heading into the season, and they upgraded said talent during the year. They should not have lost in the second round of the playoffs had they been playing at their best, or close to it. Rivers’ preference for Montrezl Harrell over Ivica Zubac, a trend that had existed before the hiatus, made the Clippers a worse team in the postseason and was arguably the deciding factor in the series loss to the Nuggets.