Doc Rivers would reportedly be interested in succeeding Jeff Hornacek if such a head coaching opening were to emerge. The New York Knicks should pass.
Jeff Hornacek could get the boot after this season. And if that happens, current Los Angeles Clippers’ head coach Doc Rivers would reportedly be interested in taking over. But the New York Knicks should steer clear of hiring Rivers as their head coach.
Tuesday night, Marc Berman of the New York Post noted Rivers’ admiration for the Knicks based on the fact that he played there for three seasons in his playing days.
“Doc enjoyed his time there,’’ the former associate said. “He respects the city, he respects the organization” Berman noted.
Frank Isola of the New York Daily News first reported the potential interest on the Knicks’ end in hiring Rivers.
This season, the Clippers have exceeded expectations. After trading Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets in the offseason and, most recently, shipping Blake Griffin off to the Detroit Pistons, they’re deprived of the star power they once had. Despite all of that, Rivers has coached the Clippers to the eighth seed in the Western Conference at 32-27. With Lou Williams embracing being the team’s go-to scorer, averaging a career-high 23.2 points per game off the bench, forward Danilo Gallinari now healthy and DeAndre Jordan dominating in the paint on both ends, the Clippers have been a competitive team out West.
While the Clippers’ surprising effort and execution this season goes to Rivers’ credit, there are too many question marks and bizarre situations that have taken place over the last few seasons under his reign.
One of the more disturbing situations that became public was how Rivers, who was the president of the Clippers at the time, reportedly refused to execute a trade with the Knicks for Carmelo Anthony because it involved his son, Austin. The deal, according to ESPN’s Michael Eaves, was Anthony and shooting guard Sasha Vujacic for Jamal Crawford, Paul Pierce, and Rivers. The fact that Austin would’ve been included in the deal made Doc decline a trade that would’ve been a complete heist for the Clippers.
While Anthony isn’t the star player of old, he, Paul, Griffin, and Jordan would’ve formed a formidable quartet that could’ve challenged the Golden State Warriors. Rejecting this trade, as well as Doc acquiring Austin the year prior, rubbed some off the wrong way, Paul in particular as Eaves notes.
“Several members of the team felt Austin acted entitled because his dad was both the coach and the President of Basketball Operations. In the view of the tenured players, Austin Rivers never tried to fit in, and when players tried to address the situation with him, he still did not respond the way the core of the team wanted him to. It led to resentment within the locker room, which often played out during games”
Eaves went on to note how Paul felt Doc was more concerned about keeping his son in town, rather than improving the team. Doc’s favorable treatment of Austin both on and off the floor was a big reasoning for the point guard wanting out of the City of Angels (Paul was traded to the Houston Rockets before the 2017 free agency period).
While he’s no longer serving as the president of the Clippers (Lawrence Frank was promoted to president in the offseason, relieving Doc of his front-office duties) and wouldn’t be able to assume such a role with the Knicks because of Steve Mills and Scott Perry’s presence, the situation Rivers created by trading for his son and supposedly giving him favorable treatment is one that sends the wrong message. Granted Austin is a good player in this league, the fact that he outlasted Paul, Griffin and potentially Jordan (if he decides to leave in free agency this summer) in LA speak volumes as to how insane this situation became.
Could this situation reinvent itself with certain players on the Knicks’ roster? Will Rivers feel the need to complain about moves management makes? Would he even go as far as attempting to force management to trade for Austin? Based on how he, at times, put his son on the same level as a player of Paul’s caliber, it shows that anything is possible.
Don’t forget that Rivers also doesn’t have the best track record with point guards. He and Rajon Rondo budded heads in Boston and Rivers’ relationship with Paul (a future Hall of Fame point guard) was clearly not a romantic honeymoon. With Frank Ntilikina (19), Emmanuel Mudiay (21) and Trey Burke (25) in place, the Knicks have many young point guards who are critical to the well-being of their future. Does management want to run the risk of Rivers budding heads with their players too?
There’s, of course, the question of whether Hornacek should even be let go? He went into this season with a young and unproven roster that was expected to win 30-35 games. In the process, he lost his best player, Kristaps Porzingis, to a season-ending ACL tear and was without his other primary scorer, Tim Hardaway Jr., for a month and a half before the All-Star break. Are those injuries Hornacek’s fault?
The Knicks are playing up to the underwhelming expectations that were put on them going into Training Camp. They’re a lottery team that may very well be on the outside looking in at the playoffs for the next two-to-three years. If they do opt to fire Hornacek at year’s end, whoever they bring in to run the show will be faced with the same criticism as Hornacek: Why aren’t you in the playoffs?
Maybe the most important factor in a potential pursuit of Rivers is that he’s under contract through the 2018-19 season at roughly $10 million per year, meaning the Knicks would have to trade for the head coach. And they’d have to do so in the form of draft compensation. With a top-10 and potential top-five pick in this year’s NBA Draft as well as the potential to be in the same situation next season with Porzingis out for a full year and the franchise not being an attractive free agent destination, those picks are too valuable to lose. Even though chances are Rivers would sign a new contract on the spot, the potential to lose a young project and/or impactful player isn’t worth it for the Knicks.
Rivers is a big name in the association and rightfully so. He’s an NBA champion, extremely vocal and well-regarded amongst other head coaches. But this is a Knicks’ team that has little to no chance at cracking the playoffs for the next few seasons, barring an unforeseen blockbuster transaction. Rivers is accustomed to coaching teams in win-now mode, as of late. In fact, he hasn’t missed the playoffs since the 2006-07 season. Throwing Rivers into a situation where he knows the playoffs are unlikely may not bring out the best in him.
He wouldn’t take on the role of being a coach-president in the Big Apple, but the Knicks shouldn’t look to hire Rivers if Hornacek is let go. Bizarre situations, sketchy decisions and the potential to lose a lottery pick — or two — in the process add up to Rivers not being the man for the job.