One day after the Clippers announced that Doc Rivers would no longer be the team’s head coach despite having two years left on his contract, ESPN and The Athletic published two missives about Rivers’ final days with the team. Each is worth a close read, but there are a few points that stick out about why the Clippers felt they had to make this decision.
Firstly, the choice to let Rivers go was ultimately Steve Ballmer’s. The front office was consulted, but Ballmer made the call. The reason that he was comfortable coming to that conclusion was because of his analysis of the Clippers’ shortcomings differed from that of Rivers.
Rivers thought the team had flawed roster construction; the Clippers thought that Rivers played the wrong guys, specifically Montrezl Harrell over Ivica Zubac. Rivers thought that the team didn’t have enough time to develop chemistry or continuity; Ballmer couldn’t understand why chemistry was lacking and thought that leadership from the head coach could address that.
Losing the 3-1 lead was the final straw, but sources say the team’s performance against Dallas was an equally significant red flag against Rivers’ acumen. The Clippers’ collective lack of spirit in the bubble was perplexing to Ballmer. It was clear all season that this team was joyless; it makes sense that the team’s ever enthusiastic owner would want to change that.
One other criticism of Rivers was “his reluctance to develop or empower the team’s younger talent throughout his tenure”, per Jovan Buha of The Athletic. This one is odd considering Rivers handed the reins to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander last year and immediately inserted Zubac and Landry Shamet into the starting lineup after midseason trades. He also turned Harrell into one of the most productive bench players in the league. Admittedly, Jerome Robinson languished, but that blame shouldn’t fall on Rivers.
This season is a different story, as most championship contenders naturally neglect their young players along the way. Still, Rivers gave opportunities to Terance Mann and Amir Coffey. Perhaps Ballmer was referring to Mfiondu Kabengele, a first-round draft pick who curiously didn’t even make the trip to Orlando with the team. If anything, a failure to empower young players is more an indictment of the team’s drafting (which, to be fair, was handled by Rivers through 2017) than their development.
The last takeaway that is especially strange is that not one Clipper has posted on social media about Rivers since the move. Not a thank you, not even a picture with Rivers in an Instagram story. Rivers is supposedly a players coach, yet none of his players came out in his defense.
The Clippers took one job away from Rivers three years ago by removing him from basketball operations. We’ll see if this dismissal is as successful.
More news for Wednesday:
- Kevin O’Connor and Chris Vernon talk about Ballmer’s first big basketball decision.
- Helene Elliott on how the Doc Rivers era should be remembered.
- Justin Russo on what to look forward to under the next Clippers coach.
- Doris Burke is still blazing trails for female broadcasters.
- A future problem for the NBA: Gen Z just doesn’t seem to care as much about live sports.