Rivers finds out just how wacky the business of coaching is
Posted: Tuesday November 18, 2003 12:57PM; Updated: Tuesday November 18, 2003 1:12PM
From Coach of the Year to the unemployment line. Hey, Doc Rivers, is this NBA thing wacky or what?
Rivers, fired by the Magic on Tuesday just three years after winning Coach of the Year honors, surely knew what he was getting into when he gave up his TV announcer's gig to sign on in Orlando four years ago. During his 13-year NBA playing career, he saw plenty of coaches get the ax. A few might even have deserved it.
Most, like him, probably just didn't have enough good players. Maybe, like him, they had no center to block shots and protect the basket. Maybe, like him, they had some key injuries.
Or maybe, like him, their voice simply grew tiring to the collection of young millionaires in the locker room.
Whatever the case, Rivers' firing was no surprise. Going 1-10 to start the season, as the Magic have done, is a capital offense for NBA teams. Especially those in small markets.
Marty Burns will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
Throw in the fact that Orlando was supposed to be a playoff contender this year, and it's easy to see why Magic COO John Weisbrod -- a former NHL player who calls the shots for the DeVos family sports empire -- wanted to make a change.
Since blowing a 3-1 playoff series lead to the Pistons in last year's playoffs, Rivers was on the proverbial hot seat. Since that time, Orlando has gone an incredible 2-20 (including a 1-7 preseason). Rivers, for whatever reason, just could not get the Magic to play anymore.
With the addition of Juwan Howard this season, the Magic were supposed to be better. But Howard got off to a terrible start shooting the ball, and Orlando seemed to miss the energy and ball pressure of departed free agent Darrell Armstrong. Meanwhile, the injury-related absences of their two best outside shooters, Pat Garrity and Gordan Giricek, allowed foes to gang up on Tracy McGrady.
Rivers, who won Coach of the Year for his "heart and hustle" team in 1999-2000, no longer had those types of players. Left with a more traditional half-court team, he could not find the X's and O's to mask their deficiencies. The Magic gained a reputation for being somewhat predictable, with Rivers running plays without second options that often led to T-Mac going one-on-one.
As is often the case with these decisions, there was also a financial element to the firing. Although Rivers' contract runs through 2004-05, the team reportedly held an option on the final two years, with the big money (some $5 million) not kicking in until next season. If that's true, it's not hard to see why Weisbrod made the move now.
The Magic hope assistant Johnny Davis, who coached the Sixers in '96-97, can turn things around with a new approach. His first task will be to try to restore some confidence. The Magic recently have looked like a defeated team even before taking the court.
As for Rivers' future, his COY award all but ensures he'll get another chance somewhere. Rivers has ties to Chicago (his hometown), Miami (Pat Riley), Milwaukee (he went to Marquette), as well as New York and Atlanta, where he played. Those teams each would likely give him a close look if an opening were to arise in the future.
In the meantime, Rivers can take consolation in the fact that he's not the first NBA coach to go from hero to goat. In the past 10 years, Rick Carlisle ('01-02 Pistons), Mike Dunleavy ('98-99 Blazers) and Del Harris ('94-95 Lakers) have gone from Coach of the Year to the unemployment line within three years. Wacky indeed, isn't it, Doc?