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Doc Rivers made the LA Clippers truly relevant for the first time in their miserable history, but even this franchise icon couldn’t escape their unyielding playoff curse. Following their 3-1 collapse against the Denver Nuggets in the conference semifinals — the second 3-1 choke job of his LA tenure and third of his career overall — the Clippers decided to part ways with their head coach.
Though he’s the best coach the Clips have ever had, it wasn’t enough to get the most talented team this franchise has ever known into the uncharted territory of its first ever conference finals appearance. For a team that landed Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the offseason and had legitimate championship aspirations, Doc’s mistakes with his rotations and the Clippers’ inept second-half offense were too much for the front office to overlook.
It’s a stunning decision, but probably the right one in the grand scheme of things. The Clips have a vital decision to make as they look to keep their title window open for longer than next season, but Rivers also has an important choice to make as the premier coach available on the market.
His top three reported options are the New Orleans Pelicans, Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers, so with a possible pick of the litter, let’s dive into each one and figure out where Doc Rivers should go next.
1. New Orleans Pelicans
According to The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears, within an hour of the news breaking that the Clippers had decided to part ways with Rivers, the Pelicans and 76ers reached out to him about his availability. For the Pels, being patient with their search for the right person to guide Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, a young supporting cast and several established veterans could pay off in spades if they snag a proven winner like Rivers.
Though he’s “only” won one championship back in 2008 with the Boston Celtics, he also boasts a .581 career win percentage, has only missed the playoffs four times in 20 full seasons as an NBA head coach and is an undisputed, charismatic leader of men. Thinking back to the “ubuntu” of the Boston Celtics, the Donald Sterling scandal and the way he brought so many Clippers teams together through adversity, he’d be idyllic for a Pelicans franchise that wants to build a strong, winning culture for Zion and his young teammates.
With veterans like Jrue Holiday and J.J. Redick on board, Rivers could also compete at a playoff-caliber level right away. He’d get to mold one of the most tantalizing young talents in the league and could build a lasting contender from the ground up. It’s a somewhat daunting task for a guy who just did exactly that in putting LAC on the map, but the Pelicans are already off to a great start. This is a fairly enticing option if Rivers is looking for a long-term fit and doesn’t need to contend right away.
2. Houston Rockets
This would be quite a challenge, with much higher and immediate expectations from day one than in New Orleans. Truth be told, the Rockets needed to win it all this year to keep this ultra small-ball experiment going. With Mike D’Antoni out, it’s entirely possible James Harden’s championship window in Clutch City has already closed. Hiring Doc Rivers could quickly fling it back open, however, and Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports the Rox are indeed interested.
Though there’d still be inherent challenges (and unrelenting Choke City jokes) in such a union, the Rockets could use a measure of accountability and deeper team camaraderie than we’ve seen in the past. After all, if anyone has a chance of reining in Russell Westbrook and getting him to listen, it’s Rivers. Harden is also the best player he would get to coach in either of these scenarios, and to be quite honest, Houston is still closer to winning a title than these other two squads with vacancies.
However, this could easily be a troubled partnership, given how the Rockets rely so heavily on Harden’s isolations and how that was exactly the problem for the Clippers’ offense this postseason when Kawhi and PG stopped hitting shots. Even so, hiring a coach who could re-establish a new culture, bring the locker room together and implement a winning defense might be enough to make up for it.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
The Rockets job is a tricky proposition, but the Sixers gig is downright confounding. There is no greater challenge on the coaching market than trying to properly coach a roster that’s mismanaged at the molecular level. Perhaps it’d be rewarding to help the 76ers get over such a frustrating hump. Perhaps it’s also impossible until significant changes are made to the genetic makeup of the team.
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are undeniable talents. Al Horford is a pro’s pro, Josh Richardson is an enticing two-way wing and younger prospects like Matisse Thybulle and Shake Milton are going to be good one day. But figuring out how to schematically fit these misshapen pieces together is a puzzle only the most brilliant of tacticians could solve.
Rivers may very well be in that category, but is it worth the risk of finding out when he could take a cushy job with more long-term security (and possibly upside) in NOLA or join a team with a more immediate path to contention in Houston? There’s plenty to like in Philly, but this front office could also be on the verge of making huge changes this offseason or the next. A smart coach like Rivers might be unwilling to hedge his bets on a new situation that could look drastically different one year into his tenure, and there’s no guarantee a change at the helm will even fix what ails this faulty roster.
And if none of these three works for Rivers, he could always just wait a year and see if the Milwaukee Bucks give Mike Budenholzer the axe ….
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