Less than two weeks after being eliminated from the 2020 NBA playoffs, the Clippers are looking for a new head coach.
Los Angeles and Doc Rivers reached a “mutual decision” to part ways Monday, with Rivers confirming the news via a statement shared from his official Twitter account.
“Thank you Clipper Nation for allowing me to be your coach and for all your support in helping make this a winning franchise,” Rivers said. “When I took this job, my goals were to make this a winning basketball program, a free agent destination, and bring a championship to this organization. While I was able to accomplish most of my goals, I won’t be able to see them all through.
“Though it was a disappointing ending to our season, you are right there and I know what this team is capable of accomplishing with your support. Thank you to all the players, coaches and staff for helping us get here. Most importantly, thank you to the fans. We went through a lot, and I am grateful for my time here.”
Rivers leaves the Clippers as the most successful coach and one of the most influential figures in franchise history. Aside from his 356-208 record over seven seasons, Rivers also guided Los Angeles through the ugly Donald Sterling saga and at one point served as both team president and head coach.
While Rivers oversaw the rise of “Lob City” and came into the 2019-20 season with championship expectations, he ultimately couldn’t escape the Western Conference semifinals. A blown 3-1 lead against the Nuggets in the second round sealed Rivers’ fate; It was the third time in his coaching career he lost despite holding a 3-1 advantage.
Now the challenge for Los Angeles is finding a candidate capable of pushing Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the rest of the Clippers to that next level. The stakes couldn’t be higher, considering both Leonard and George are eligible to become free agents in 2021. This hire is as much about next season as it is the next several years.
Here are four candidates the Clippers may consider as part of their search:
This makes the most sense, right?
Lue worked under Rivers as a Clippers assistant coach this season, so he’s familiar with the players and front office. He has championship experience, winning the 2016 NBA title with the Cavs and reaching the NBA Finals in 2017 and ’18. He can certainly manage stars — there’s nothing quite like being in the middle of the LeBron James media machine. He checks a bunch of boxes.
When Cleveland fired David Blatt in 2016, the pressure fell to Lue. It was championship or bust. With this Clippers team, he’d probably feel right at home.
The longtime point guard was an assistant in Washington for five seasons and has been part of the Clippers’ staff for six seasons, including the 2019-20 campaign. As Rivers himself said earlier this month, Cassell should be a head coach right now.
“He’s got an incredibly high basketball IQ, and I just hope that he gets a shot,” Rivers said. “He’s paid every due that’s possible. When they talk about paying dues, he’s paid every due that is possible. He’s yet to get a job, so I’m hoping that happens.”
Doc Rivers to @sabreenajm on the head coaching openings and Sam Cassell – “Sam Cassell should be a head coach now. He’s got an incredibly high basketball IQ and I hope he gets a shot. He’s paid every due that is possible and he’s yet to get a job, so I’m hoping that happens.” pic.twitter.com/v1fkBmLruf
— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) September 10, 2020
A smart, experienced coach who won multiple titles during his own successful playing career? Sure, that works.
Jeff Van Gundy
Van Gundy has already emerged as someone who could replace Rivers, according to Brad Turner of the Los Angeles Times. The ESPN analyst hasn’t held an NBA coaching job since leaving the Rockets in 2007, but his name has popped up in recent rumors — including a possible return to Houston.
Outside of his previous experience with the Knicks and Rockets, Van Gundy also led the United States to a gold medal at the 2017 FIBA AmeriCup.
Sixers ownership wants D’Antoni as Philly’s next coach, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey, who cited one source as saying D’Antoni would have to “bomb his interview” not be offered the job. It’s possible the wheels are already in motion on that hire, but the Clippers are closer to contending than the Sixers at the moment.
Perhaps the allure of a ring and the opportunity to put Leonard and George in his system might give D’Antoni pause.