Magic fire Rivers after worst start in team history
Posted: Tuesday November 18, 2003 7:39PM; Updated: Tuesday November 18, 2003 10:41PM
PHOENIX (AP) -- The worst start in the 15-year history of the Orlando Magic cost Doc Rivers his job, the first coaching casualty of an NBA season that has barely begun.
Only a few hours after Rivers talked to reporters about how management has stuck behind him, he was fired and replaced by assistant coach Johnny Davis.
"We need to start making some progress," Orlando's chief operating officer, John Weisbrod, said before the team's workout Tuesday in Phoenix. "We don't have a team that should be lapping the field or leading the East, but we certainly feel we have a group that is better than 1-10, and we need to get more out of our guys."
General manager John Gabriel delivered the news late Monday night in a meeting at the team's hotel in Salt Lake City following the Magic's 90-88 loss to Utah. Assistant coach Dave Wohl also was fired.
Rivers flew home to Florida, and the Magic traveled to Phoenix, where they will play the Suns on Thursday.
"It is part of sports," Rivers said. "I thought I had a good run here. Things just didn't work out in the end. Maybe the players need to hear another voice."
The Magic won their season opener but then lost 10 straight games, the NBA's worst record this season.
"I pretty much had an idea that it was going to go down, I just didn't know when," Orlando star Tracy McGrady said. "For the most part, it's a pretty sad day for me because over the years I've grown close to Doc. He came in and did a tremendous job of helping me become the player that I am, the person that I am."
Still, McGrady indicated the team needs the changes that Davis will bring.
"J.D. is a laid-back coach. He teaches the game from an individual standpoint, one-on-one," McGrady said. "If you make a mistake, he's real calm about it. He's not the kind of guy that really yells and screams at the top of his lungs.
"He's been around awhile. He's been around longer than Doc, so we're happy with the decision."
Juwan Howard had been one of Rivers' most vocal supporters on the team.
"Of course it hurts me personally because he was a big reason I came here," Howard said. "The coaches will always be the ones who have to go first. We're the ones who are out there performing. We didn't get the job done. I feel we let him down."
Much of the Magic's troubles stem from the loss of Grant Hill, limited to just 47 games in three-plus seasons because of a stress fracture in his left ankle. His huge contract is also a massive impediment to Orlando's salary cap situation. The team signed him and McGrady in 2000, believing the tandem could lead the Magic to the top of the East.
Davis, a former head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, was given a two-year contract. He had been a Magic assistant since Rivers became coach. The two met shortly after the firing.
"We both understood that this is the nature of the business," Davis said. "He was very happy for me, and certainly wanted me to be the one to replace him."
Rivers was named NBA coach of the year in his first season after directing a team that had four non-drafted starters to a 42-42 record. The Magic reached the playoffs in the last three of Rivers' four seasons but were knocked out in the first round.
"I have no ax to grind," Rivers said. "I thought the management and team were both great. I couldn't ask for anything more."
Orlando has the third-youngest team in the NBA, and Weisbrod felt Davis would be a better teacher.
"We became convinced that with his temperament, his rapport with the players, his ability to teach people and work with young players, that he was the type of person that was right for our mix," Weisbrod said.
Davis, 48, played 10 years in the NBA, averaging 13.9 points and 4.5 assists per game with Portland, Indiana, Atlanta and Cleveland.
Davis, in his fifth season with the Magic, was an assistant with New Jersey from 1997-99. He's also been an assistant with Atlanta, the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland. As a rookie, he helped the Trail Blazers win the NBA title in 1977.
Davis went 22-60 as coach of the 76ers in the 1996-97 season.
"There's not a question in my mind that I'm a much better coach at this point than I was at that point," he said, "the same as with anyone who has progressed from eight years ago until now in the same business."
Rivers, who was in his fifth season with the Magic, had been the longest-tenured coach working in the Eastern Conference.
"I'll go home, walk in the house and reintroduce myself to my family," Rivers, 42, said. "I'll see what I want to do. There'll be some options."
Rivers played 13 seasons for the Hawks, Clippers, Knicks and Spurs before retiring in 1996 to become a TV analyst for Turner Sports. He was 171-168 in his four-plus seasons with Orlando and ranks second on the franchise's career victories list.
"I love coaching. I enjoy coaching," Rivers said. "I consider it in my blood, but I think it might be time for a break."