An In-Depth Look at Doc Rivers’ Career


Jesse B. Garrabrandt, Getty Images

Joel Embiid and Doc Rivers shake hands.

Jackson McCrae '23, Writer

After the recent firing of Brett Brown, the 76ers began a desperate hunt for a new coach, trying to land the best coaches available while other teams (the Knicks, Nets, Rockets, Bulls, Thunder, Clippers, Pacers, and Pelicans) were all in the hunt for the coveted championship-drought ending coach. However, out of the coaches being considered, former NBA champion and NBA Coach of the Year, Doc Rivers, was the Sixers final choice.

After being fired from the head coaching job of the Los Angeles Clippers on September 28, Rivers was hired by the Sixers within a week, on October 3, 2020. Only time will tell if this was a good hire, but a close look at Rivers’ twenty-one year coaching career can provide some insight and lead to an educated guess about what his future may look like in Philadelphia.


Orlando Magic 1999-2004

Doc Rivers started his coaching career as the head coach for the 1999-2000 Orlando Magic. The Magic were not expected to do great things; while they may have had great young talented players such as future four-time Defensive Player of the Year, Ben Wallace, they lacked veteran leadership after 4x All Star Penny Hardaway left the team. The team managed a seemingly unimaginable 41-41 record, taking the whole league by surprise. In 2000-2001, the team really took off, adding Tracy McGrady in a sign and trade with the Raptors. The Magic then made a questionable decision in trading away Ben Wallace and Chucky Atkins in exchange for Grant Hill, hoping they would form a dynamic duo with McGrady. However, Hill suffered from a broken ankle and only played four games, and the team went 43-39 and were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Milwaukee Bucks. Looking to bounce back in 2001-2002, Orlando was optimistic with Tracy McGrady, the return of Grant Hill, the solid play of Darrell Armstrong, and Rookie of the Year Mike Miller on the roster. Grant Hill only played fourteen games due to injury, and the team improved by only one win. Moving to 44-38 the Magic still lost in four games to the Hornets in the first round.

The Magic’s woes continued even before the 2002-2003 season, passing on Carlos Boozer in the draft, instead selecting Curtis Borchardt. They did sign Shawn Kemp, only for him to be a nonfactor and retire at the end of the year. Once again Grant Hill was plagued by injuries, only playing in 29 games. Orlando continued the questionable moves by trading away their former Rookie of the Year Mike Miller. They went 42-40 and had another first round exit, this time in seven games to the Detroit Pistons. Following the offseason leading up to the 2003-04 season, Doc Rivers was in yet another terrible situation. The Magic had selected Reece Gaines with the 18th pick, who only played in 71 career NBA games, However, the Magic did draft a solid player with the 42nd pick, 2x NBA Champ Zaza Pachulia. They also managed to make two solid signings, adding Juwan Howard and Tyronn Lue during Free Agency. However, it was not enough, as after a 1-10 start, Doc Rivers was fired from the head coaching job, and spent a year working as a commentator for ABC.


Boston Celtics 2004-2013

On April 29, 2004, Doc Rivers took over as the head coach of the Boston Celtics. The team had a solid core, built around Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker. Walker only played 24 games, and Boston couldn’t make it out of the first round, losing in seven to the Indiana Pacers. Looking to bounce back in the 2005-06 season, the Celtics drafted Gerald Green. Then they were involved in a monstrous five-team trade, in which the Celtics traded Antoine Walker to the Heat. It was a horrific season, as the Celtics only won 33 games and missed the playoffs entirely. After a year during which hardly anything went right for the Celtics, the 2006-2007 season saw the future begin to brighten in Boston. The Celtics traded for Theo Ratliff and acquired Rajon Rondo. However, they went at 24-58, completely missed the playoffs.

Heading into the 2007-08 season, the Celtics front office unleashed a fury of moves, starting with trading for sharpshooter Ray Allen. They then traded away a plethora of assets and acquired Kevin Garnett. With the new super team, the Celtics cruised to 66-16 record. They struggled in the first and second rounds of the playoffs, taking seven games to knock off both the Atlanta Hawks and the Lebron James led Cleveland Cavaliers. They won the Eastern Conference Finals in six over the Detroit Pistons and defeated the Kobe Bryant led Lakers in the NBA finals to secure an NBA championship. Following their championship, the whole team managed to stay together, and waltzed through the regular season, earning a 62-20 record, a step down from the previous year. They were met in the second round by the Dwight Howard led Magic, and they lost in seven games. After a disappointing second round exit, the Celtics immediately grabbed Rasheed Wallace for Doc Rivers. The Celtics big four shined in 2009-2010, and the they headed into the playoffs as the four seed with a 50-32 record. They rolled through the Eastern Conference and were close to another championship However, the Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol led Lakers defeated Boston in seven games, only winning the evenly-matched series by four points in Game 7.

Feeling dejected heading into the offseason, the Celtics front office added Avery Bradley with the 19th pick. They also signed aging stars Shaquille O’Neal, and Jermaine O’Neal. They finished the season 56-26, the three seed in the East, and played the Knicks in the first round. They swept the Knicks, rolled into Miami to play the Heat, and were sent home in five games after being dominated by the big three in Miami. The 2011-12 lock-out shortened season was taken in stride by Rivers and the Celtics, earning a 29-27 record and the fourth seed in the East. The Celtics beat the Hawks and 76ers in the first two rounds of the playoffs and were once again sent home by Miami’s big three. The Celtics’ personnel blunders continued into the offseason as they messed up in the draft, taking Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo over Draymond Green, Khris Middleton, Will Barton, and Jae Crowder. They also lost Ray Allen to the Heat, the team that had knocked them out of the playoffs two straight years. Despite still having great pieces, the Celtics returned to mediocrity, and the blame fell on Doc Rivers. After a 41-40 season, the Celtics traded Doc Rivers (a rarity in the NBA) to the Los Angeles Clippers for a 2015 first round pick.


Los Angeles Clippers 2013-2020

Rivers inherited a Clippers team that would come to be known as “Lob City,” for their flashy passes, monster dunks, and all-around dazzling style of play. Led by Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, J.J. Redick, and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers were expected to be a powerhouse in the West and they lived up to that expectation, going 57-25, the best record in franchise history and earning the three seed. However, they were knocked out in six games in the second round by the Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook led Oklahoma City Thunder. During the offseason, the poor front office decisions that have plagued Rivers continued, as the Clippers drafted CJ Wilcox, The Clippers still managed a 56-26 record, and earned the three seed They beat the San Antonio Spurs in seven games. They then marched into Houston to play the two seeded Rockets led by James Harden and Dwight Howard. The Clippers had a 3-1 series lead and looked as though they were cruising to the Western Conference Finals—then they fell apart. They blew a 3-1 series lead and were knocked out in the second round. During the offseason leading up to the 2015-16 season, the Clippers made several important moves, resigning DeAndre Jordan and signing veterans Josh Smith and Paul Pierce. Despite these moves, the Clippers underperformed from the previous year, going 53-29, and earning the four seed behind double-doubles from both DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul. They played the Damian Lillard led Trail Blazers in the first round and were bounced by Portland. The Clippers continued their streak of poor draft choices by taking Brice Johnson. They remained mediocre going 51-31 on the year and clinched the four seed. However, it wasn’t enough, as Gordon Hayward led the Jazz to a first-round victory over the Clippers.

Following a disappointing year, the Clippers decided Lob City wasn’t working, so they decided to blow it up. They first traded Chris Paul to the Rockets, for a package that included Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams, 2018 first-rounder, and other pieces. They then traded away Jamal Crawford, Diamond Stone, and a 2018 first rounder to the Hawks, and in the same three-team trade, received Danilo Gallinari from the Nuggets. Then, in December, the Clippers made their biggest move by trading away Blake Griffin, Brice Johnson, and Willis Reed to the Pistons for Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, a 2018 first rounder and 2019 second rounder. With so much roster turnover and trading away their best pieces, the Clippers went 42-40 and missed the playoffs.

Heading into the 2018-19 season, the Clippers picked up Miles Bridges, a solid player in his own right, and then flipped him for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is considered to be one of the better young guards in the NBA. However, they also picked Jerome Robinson with the 13th pick. The Clippers made an important trade in February, sending Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic, and Mike Scott to the 76ers for Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet, and two first rounders and two second rounders. The Clippers managed to go 48-34 however and slid in the eight seed in the West. However, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant were not going to be upset in the first round and sent the Clippers home in six games.

Going into the 2019-20 season, the Clippers made several fantastic moves that allowed them to set themselves up to contend. They signed Kawhi Leonard, and one day later, the Clippers traded away Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and SEVEN first round picks to the Thunder for Paul George. The Clippers finished 49-23, due to a season shortened by COVID-19, and finished second in the Western Conference. The Clippers had a 3-1 series lead, and had a large lead in game five; it looked as though they would close it out, but the Nuggets won Game 5, and eventually the series. Some of the blame for the loss fell on Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, the team’s stars, but much of the blame fell onto Doc Rivers, and on September 28, 2020 he was fired. The 76ers scooped up Rivers just three days later, and on October 3, 2020, Doc Rivers was announced as the new head coach of the 76ers.