When the Clippers blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets and never got out of the second round of the NBA playoffs, changes were going to be coming to Los Angeles. A team with lofty aspirations — and that gave up a lot of their future to contend now — can’t fall on its face like that without consequences.
But nobody saw Doc Rivers being out as the Clippers head coach.
That’s just what happened, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Both Rivers and the Clippers have since confirmed the decision.
“Doc has been a terrific coach for the Clippers, an incredible ambassador, and a pillar of strength during tumultuous times,” Clippers owner Steve Ballmer said in a statement. “He won a heck of a lot of games and laid a foundation for this franchise.”
Rivers helped lead the Clippers through the disastrous end of the Donald Sterling era and into the Ballmer era. In the bubble, Rivers also was a loud voice in support of social justice.
Kawhi Leonard came to the Clippers as a free agent in part to play for Rivers, and the coach was instrumental in recruiting Leonard to Los Angeles. That was the reason most around the league thought Rivers’ job was safe despite some questionable coaching rotation moves against the Nuggets (staying small and trusting Montrezl Harrell against Nikola Jokic when that clearly was not working).
There is no way Doc Rivers is out without Leonard giving his okay to the move.
Rivers signed an extension a year ago and Woj said he had two years remaining on his contract. That suggests a firing, but the Clippers called it a mutual parting of the ways.
Both the Pelicans and 76ers have already reached out to Rivers about their open coaching positions, reports Marc Spears of ESPN.
As for who is next in L.A., Tyronn Lue has been the Rivers’ lead assistant and makes a logical choice to step in and take over. He is popular with the team’s players and has won a ring as a coach before.
However, it’s possible the Clippers look elsewhere. Jeff Van Gundy was suggested by Wojnarowski. Mike D’Antoni is out there if the Clippers want to make a radical move.
“I am also extremely confident in our front office and our players,” Ballmer said. “We will find the right coach to lead us forward and help us reach our ultimate goals. We will begin the search and interview process immediately.”
The new coach will take over the ultimate win-now team. Los Angeles has elite talent in Leonard and Paul George, the Sixth Man of the Year depth (Harrell, a free agent, and Lou Williams), and quality perimeter defenders. In the clutch, they could turn to the two-time Finals MVP.
Except all that talent really never meshed together, in part due to injuries and other things keeping the team’s core from playing much together. Yet there was a sense of entitlement around this team — the Clippers acted like they could flip the switch and win.
“I think a lot of the issues that we ran into, talent bailed us out; chemistry it didn’t,” Williams said after the Clippers were eliminated. “In this series, it failed us. We know this is our first year together. We are a highly talented group and we came up short. Chemistry is something that you’ve got to build. You build it over time.”
The Clippers are all in with this roster. To get George (and with him, Leonard as a free agent), Los Angeles traded Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, their own first-round picks in 2022, 2024, and 2026, two other first-round picks belonging to Miami (2021 and 2023), and agreed to pick-swaps with Oklahoma City 2023 and 2025.
The Clippers pushed all their chips into the middle of the table to get two years, two playoff runs with those stars. They wasted the first one of them.
The new coach, whoever it is, will have a lot of pressure not to let another season slip away.