Doc Rivers joined the Los Angeles Clippers on June 25th, 2013. The team wasn’t bad when they agreed to give up an unprotected 2015 first round draft pick to acquire him from the Boston Celtics. In fact, they were coming off a 56-26 season. The problem was that they had lost in the first round of the NBA playoffs failing to make it to the Western Conference Finals, again.
Doc Rivers was brought in to change that.
Incidentally, that first round draft pick they gave up turned into R.J. Hunter who had a somewhat unremarkable NBA career making the acquisition look pretty good for the Clippers. The start of the Doc Rivers era went OK. The Clippers finished the 2013-14 season 57-25 and were once again Champions of the NBA Pacific Division. The Clippers moved past the first round of the playoffs only to lose in the Western Conference Semi-Finals to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
To look at that result on paper one may think, well the Clippers improved a bit but didn’t get where they wanted to go. Overall, Doc Rivers did a good job. But, that doesn’t take into account what you won’t see on BasketballReference.com when you review the numbers from that season. That was the year, of course, that Donald Sterling was exposed. For something like that to happen to a team at any time would be monumental, this happened to the Clippers in the midst of their first round playoff series with the Golden State Warriors.
This was the Golden State Warriors of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Granted, they were just getting started then, but the Warriors were good and the Clippers beat them in a best of seven. More impressive, the Clippers beat them as the league was banishing the franchise owner. Doc Rivers guided they team through that mess.
On paper, the team improved by one game in the regular season and one series in the playoffs in the 2013-14 season. But Doc Rivers built up a significant amount of goodwill, above and beyond that seasons record, for guiding the Clippers through the type of controversy some franchises do not recover from.
Over the next six seasons the Clippers averaged almost 50 wins per season, including the shortened 2020 Bubble season. They made the playoffs five of those six seasons and he coached three sixth man of the year award winners. The Clippers were relevant and undeniably the best professional men’s basketball team in Los Angeles.
Yet, the team never made it to the Finals, let alone the Western Conference Finals.
It is because of that and the fact that Rivers is the only coach to lead a team to defeat that held a 3-1 playoff series lead, he’s done that three times, that his firing isn’t a surprise. Clippers fans are a forgiving lot, in general. They have suffered through decades of losses and “almosts”. The 2019-20 end to the Clippers season however was enough to test even the most ardent Clippers fan. Fans were ready for a change. It seems now, so was the franchise as a whole.
It’s easy to look back at the Doc Rivers era and point out what didn’t happen. No, the Clippers never won an NBA Championship. No, they never reached the Western Conference Finals. In fact, Rivers teams claimed as many Pacific Division Titles as his predecessor, Vinnie Del Negro did, one. What Doc Rivers did do however was lead the Clippers to relevancy. A relevancy that made it possible for the team to attract players the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
The Doc Rivers era is now over for the Los Angeles Clippers, but their process continues. The next coach will inherit a team with an incredible amount of talent. A fanbase eager for a breakthrough and the richest franchise owner in the Association. The table is set and expectations will be high in the 2020-21 season.
For that, we have Doc Rivers to thank.