It has been a tough spring for veteran NBA coaches. Three with championship rings have been ousted: Doc Rivers, Mike Budenholzer, and Nick Nurse. Each firing has its own unique story. But among those, no title-winning coach’s reputation has devolved into a punchline quite like Rivers.
Rivers is known for his successful stint as the Boston Celtics coach, highlighted by winning the 2008 NBA championship. He is also known for his unprecedented playoff failures, blowing three 3-1 series leads and four 3-2 series leads. The latest implosion, losing to his former team Boston, cost him his job with the Philadelphia 76ers.
The stigma surrounding Rivers is so strong you must wonder if we’ve seen the last of him as a coach. He’s 61 years old and has been fired by three different organizations. In a changing NBA world, there might no longer be a place for Rivers on the bench. But perhaps there is a place for him on television.
If Rivers wants to change the narrative of his career, a pivot to TV might be his best move. He’s done so before. After being canned by the Orlando Magic following squandering a 3-1 first-round lead in 2003 to the Detroit Pistons coupled with a 1-10 start to the 2003-04 season, he became an analyst for the NBA on ABC where he called the NBA Finals with Al Michaels. The stint lasted one year until he was hired by the Celtics.
Would another TV job help Doc Rivers eventually land another NBA job? Maybe. But that shouldn’t necessarily be his focus. The power of that medium has a way of buffing out imperfections, and being excellent has a certain cachet. Rivers brings an invaluable perspective as a longtime player with four teams and as a longtime coach with four teams. He has been an All-Star. He has been a Coach of the Year. That’s not all. Rivers’ son Austin plays in the league. Rivers’ son-in-law is Seth Curry. Few individuals, if any, have Rivers’ background. He has a wealth of knowledge and history that could be mined for broadcasting gold.
Being a traditional analyst might be too limiting. Sure, he could do that adroitly, but for someone like Rivers, other options might suit him better. When he’s not being defensive about his 111-104 post-season record, he comes across as engaging and affable. He has his friends in the media, most notably Michael Wilbon.
The most obvious landing spot for Rivers is ESPN. It’s an NBA broadcasting partner, and he knows a lot of people there. The network isn’t afraid to shell out big money for big names, and it could use him in various roles. Why not pair him with someone like Wilbon in a studio show where he feels comfortable enough to break down the intricacies of the NBA? Or have him work with a younger former player to swap stories?
If Rivers is done with coaching or accepted the likelihood that he won’t get another shot, that means he might be more willing to speak his mind. An honest look at the state of the league, and its issues as well, as what could be improved would be fascinating.
The No.1 question is this: Does Rivers want to return to TV? He is apparently still open to the idea of coaching again if “the right opportunity presented itself.” Being an NBA coach has always been difficult but now, not even a championship buys you job security. Owners are less patient than ever.
Since leaving Boston, Rivers has experienced only playoff misery. He hasn’t reached a conference finals since 2012. As a former point guard, he understands how to read the environment around him.
It’s time for Doc Rivers to make a fast break to TV.