If you took a poll around the NBA, you could probably win a lot of money betting that there is a belief that Doc Rivers is a future hall of famer. When most think of him they probably think of the NBA championship back in 2008 with the Boston Celtics. Despite that one championship, Rivers hasn’t had as great of a career as everyone seems to think he has had. That Celtics team had a roster that consisted of three shoe-in hall of fame players (Allen, Pierce, Garnett), and a plethora of good role players. However, prior to Boston, during his time in Orlando, Rivers only put together a 171-168 (.504) record.
In Doc’s first year with the Magic he went 41-41, posting an exact .500 winning percentage, while finishing in fourth place in the Atlantic Division. In his second season in Orlando, the Magic signed Tracy Mcgrady, giving Doc his first taste of coaching an All-Star talent. With the improved roster Doc still finished fourth in the Atlantic winning just 2 more games than the year prior. However that was still good enough for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Bowing out in the first round after the five game defeat at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks. Doc spent his last two full years in Orlando posting a mediocre .524 win percentage and never making it out of the first round of the playoffs. In what some call early success in his coaching career, you could make an argument that Doc was simply what his record showed, average.
After a 1-10 start to the 2003 NBA season, Doc was fired by Orlando and subsequently hired by the Celtics the following year. The luck for Doc continued, inheriting a Celtics team that already had perennial All-Star Paul Pierce in the prime of his career. Despite this, Rivers only made the playoffs in one of his first three years with the Celtics, and still never making it out of the first round. Once again, Doc struggled to finish above .500 with an uninspiring record of 102-246 (.414) in his first three years in Boston. Finishing dead last in the Eastern Conference for the 06-07 season, the Celtics still decided to bring Rivers Back the next year.
The 07-08 season is where all the fun began for Doc in his coaching career. The Celtics revamped their roster, bringing in both Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in trades. Doc was now tasked with coaching a roster that originated the big three format that Lebron James brought to Miami and Cleveland. A starting five that consisted of three All-Stars and an up and coming point guard in Rajon Rondo. With his new roster Doc coached the Celtics to first place in the Atlantic, earning the number one seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Doc finally was able to make it out of the first round, in fact the Celtics would eventually become that year’s NBA Champions.
Doc would spend four more years coaching the roster centered around the stars that brought the title to Boston. However, Rivers and the Celtics would only make the NBA Finals once more, falling short to Kobe’s Lakers squad for the NBA crown in 2010. In his second to last season in Boston, Rivers had a final stab at the Playoffs with his championship roster fully intact. The Celtics were able to make the conference finals, but lost to the Miami Heat and their own version of the big three with James, Wade, and Bosh. Following the season, Ray Allen left for the Miami Heat. Doc and the Celtics were still optimistic for the following season, bringing back three of their top four players. However, in what would become his final season in Boston, the squad finished just a half game over .500 and suffered a first round exit in the postseason. The band had finally broken up in Boston, and the Celtics were only able to capture the Larry O’Brien trophy once.
With Rivers now done with Boston it was time for him to move on to another squad. With the championship as a resume padder, Doc had multiple suitors. What better place was there to go that was looking for a coach than the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013. Doc somehow inherited another star-studded roster with Los Angeles. A roster centered around annual All-Star Chris Paul along with a young Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan. Once more Rivers had a roster built to compete year after year for NBA championships.
Rivers was able to get the Clippers to the playoffs in his first year, but saw a second round failure at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the future looking bright after the team’s first year together, the Clippers had confidence the team was on the right path moving forward. The 2014-2015 season marks the last time Rivers has sniffed any action passed the first round of the playoffs in his ongoing coaching career. Rivers spent his first four years in Los Angeles with that roster intact before losing Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets. Following Paul’s exit the Clippers missed the postseason the following year, despite still having two of the three players in their own big three still in the fold for the first half of the season. The team traded Griffin to the Detroit Pistons in January of 2018, finishing out the season with only Deandre Jordan left from the three. Jordan’s exit did not come until the offseason, signing with the Dallas Mavericks prior to the 2018-2019 season.
Rivers was headed towards the first unpredictable season of his time with the Clippers. It was the first time he would start the season with zero All-Stars on the roster in Los Angeles. To the surprise of everyone around the NBA the Clippers were still able to make the postseason behind fantastic seasons from veterans Lou Williams and Tobias Harris. Rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander burst onto the scene late in the year to help the Clippers make the postseason push before pushing the defending champion Golden State Warriors to six games in the first round. Despite making the playoffs, rumors swirled that Doc and the Clippers were set to move on from each other following the season.
Despite the future not looking too bright for the Clippers heading towards this season, Doc was still in place as the Head Coach. The Clippers once again went through a roster makeover, thanks to superstar small forward Kawhi Leonard hand picking his destination following his title run with the Toronto Raptors. Not only were the Clippers able to bring Leonard to Los Angeles, in a turn of events they were able to get Paul George in a trade with the Thunder. The Clipper only brought seven of twenty players from last year’s team back for this year’s team. Optimism was once again high for Doc, but why wouldn’t it be now that he has inherited yet another championship caliber roster?
To the average fan most of what you just read probably screams success, but to anyone that takes a closer look at Doc in totality would only describe it as luck. Glen “Big Baby” Davis on Chris Broussard’s “In The Zone” podcast said, “Lucky as Hell” in reference to Rivers and the Celtics winning the title in 2008. Davis also said, “And he was lucky as hell. Lucky as hell. The year before that they were wearing trash bags (in the crowd)”. Davis went on to say, “But then the next year they win it, now he’s one of the best coaches ever? I’m just not feeling that, you know what I mean?”
Davis was then asked if Rivers was overrated as a head coach, to which Davis responded “I think so, yeah”. Davis was consistent during the entire portion of the interview about Doc being lucky to have the guys he had in 2008. Even going so far as to say that Danny Ainge should be the one getting the credit. Davis cited multiple meetings between Ainge and Rivers, where the GM told Doc to just “leave them alone” and “ease up”.
When you look at Doc’s accomplishments since his time in Boston, the best he has done is reach the second round. Since “Lob City” was disbanded, all Rivers has done is exit the playoffs once again in the first round. And once again, Doc has been blessed by the basketball gods. He has inherited another roster full of All-Stars and significant role players.
Doc has been coaching for 21 years and holds a combined record of 936-678 (.580), with only 130 wins above .500. In Contrast, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has 224 more wins, 188.5 more wins above .500, and a combined record of 1,162-525 in that same span. Rivers has only spent two years during his coaching career without All-Star talent in his lineup, only getting to the playoffs as the eighth seed in 2019. Rivers has been blessed with an embarrassment of riches that he has failed to do anything with outside of Boston in ‘08. So is Doc Rivers really that good of a coach, or is he the most overrated coach in NBA History?