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By Mike Sandrolini
PROVISO | Doc Rivers’ long NBA career both as a player and currently as a coach—he’s actually serving in two roles with the Los Angeles Clippers: head coach and president of basketball operations—began back in 1983-84 after he was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks out of Marquette University.
Rivers, a former McDonald’s all-American at Proviso East, reached a coaching milestone, registering his 800th NBA career victory on April 1 when the Clippers defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 115-104. He became the 15th coach in NBA history to reach that milestone. Only San Antonio Spurs’ coach Greg g Popovich has more wins among active NBA coaches than Rivers.
“What I’ve learned most as a coach is persistence and patience,’” Rivers told the media before the game. “Patience with the players and myself. As a young coach you have a tendency to overreact to everything and change everything. I’ve learned not to sweat everything.”
Rivers now has been an NBA head coach longer than he played in the league. He played 15 years with five different NBA clubs—averaging in double figures eight of those seasons—and is currently in his 18th year as coach. This season is his fourth with the Clippers; he spent nine seasons in Boston and five in Orlando, where he launched his coaching career in 1999.
His 2007-08 Celtics won the NBA championship, and he’s endured only two losing seasons over 18 years.
The Clippers have just one game remaining on their regular season schedule—hosting Sacramento on Wednesday night. They reached 50 wins after defeating Houston 125-96 Monday night.
Whether the Clippers stay where they are—they’re currently the fourth seed in the Western Conference—or fall to the fifth seed, they’ll begin the postseason facing the Utah Jazz. The Clippers won three of their four games vs. Utah during the regular season.
The NBA playoffs start this weekend, and Rivers and the Clippers are hoping 2017 is the year they make a deep run into the playoffs. Although they’ve reached the postseason every year that Rivers has been head coach, the Clippers haven’t advanced past the Western Conference semifinals.
As president of basketball operations, Rivers has a major role in shaping the Clippers’ roster. He’ll face some challenging decisions at season’s end because superstar power forward Black Griffin, all-star guard Chris Paul and guard J.J. Redick all become unrestricted free agents.
One player that Doc will have under contract after this season is his own son, Austin Rivers. Doc made NBA history in January, 2015, becoming the first coach to coach his son after Austin—who had spent three seasons in New Orleans after the Pelicans selected him as the 10th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft—was acquired by the Clippers in a three-way trade. After playing in the 2011 McDonald’s high school all-American game (like his father), Austin attended Duke University for one year. He then declared for the NBA Draft upon finishing the year at Duke, and was chosen by the Pelicans.
Austin has been one of the Clippers’ most consistent players. Usually a mainstay on the team’s second unit, Austin made 29 starts this season, taking over for Paul when Paul missed several games after tearing a ligament in his left thumb. He averaged just over 16 points per game as a starter.
“You’re still his dad no matter what,” Doc Rivers told bleacherreport.com in late January. “I’m always going to be that. You always are there. But on the floor, coaching-wise, I’m more focused. I think you have the same joy, in a crazy way, because as a coach, you want your guys to improve. You really want your young guys to improve, and he’s our young guy.”
However, Austin missed the remainder of the regular season with a hamstring injury. It remains to be seen whether the 24-year-old will be ready to go for the start of the playoffs.
“I’m disappointed,” Austin told the Los Angeles Times recently. “I was looking forward to this year’s playoffs. The goal was game one of the playoffs, but it’s looking like hopefully mid-first round, early second round. We’ll see. You never know, I might heal faster than I think so. … It’s not that serious, serious of an injury. It’s just bad timing.”
Speaking of challenges, Doc was faced with one shortly after the calendar turned to 2017—the possibility of trading his own son to another team. The New York Knicks approached him about trading Carmello Anthony to the Clippers. Although the deal fell through, Austin’s name was reported to be in the negotiations.
When Doc was asked by ESPN’s Rachel Nichols at the time if he would trade his son, he said he would if he had to.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes,” he said. “Listen, I would trade Austin. You have to be willing to do that. And he would be one of them. And any of them would be one. But I don’t want to trade any of our guys. I like our team. Having said that, if you think you can make your team better, you make your team better. That’s my job.”