Rivers' Leadership Recognized with Latest Honor

by Charlie Widdoes

NEW ORLEANS—At the start of his 20th NBA coaching season, you wouldn’t have looked at Doc Rivers’s coaching resume and thought, “You know, this is really lacking an 11th Coach of the Month award.” The man had long ago established himself as one of the game’s top leaders, with a 57.7 career winning percentage, an NBA title and Coach of the Year to his name.

“He does a great job every year,” said Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle on Sunday.

“I think he does a great job all the time,” echoed Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, the next night in New Orleans.

But his most recent honor, announced on Monday, is different. He’s won NBA Coach of the Month ten times before, but those teams had Hall-of-Famers. These Clippers entered December with the best record in the Western Conference (15-6), but not a single All-Star appearance on the roster (yet).

Rivers is on record as saying, “WE don’t have the quote-unquote star,” but the team’s success to this point reaffirms the depth of its talent, and serves as a reflection on its coach. Projected by many to be competitive, if not contenders, they’ve defied skeptics and found ways to win; the Clippers rank 29th in three-point attempts, but 4th in offensive efficiency thanks to top-5 rankings in three-point percentage, free throw-percentage and free throw attempts.

Ask around, and Rivers’ players and peers will tell you he is perfectly positioned to lead this group with something to prove.

“I know how he can rally a team with ‘It’s us against everybody else,’” said Gentry, a former Rivers assistant. “And he’s been great at that.”

Tobias Harris, who embodies this team’s work ethic with his rise to Western Conference Player of the Month, credits Rivers with establishing a winning mindset: “Every game, we know that we should come out victorious. He’s instilled that type of confidence in us.”

Rivers is the same top-notch tactician that he’s always been (the Clippers went 6-0 in games decided by five points or less in October and November), but it’s the genuine relationships he builds with his players that has created an environment in which they can thrive despite fluid roles.

“He keeps it real,” says Mike Scott, who is shooting a career-best 43.3 percent from three in his first year in L.A. “We’re a deep team, so I know it’s hard for him to manage minutes, but he’s been doing a great job at that.”

It’s one of the challenges that comes with great depth, and even those most affected by competition for minutes appreciate Rivers’ straightforward approach.

Lou Williams (17.8 PPG) remains one of the game’s premier closers, but even he has seen a seven-minute-per-game drop from last season. Nevertheless, the 14-year veteran and two-time 6th Man of the Year winner is buying in his coach’s methods.

“I like Doc for his communication,” says the NBA’s leading bench scorer on the league’s highest-scoring bench through the first month-and-a-half. “He’s a straightforward coach, but he’s not disrespectful. He has a way of getting his message across, and I appreciate that.”

Rivers downplayed the accomplishment, but acknowledged what it says about his team’s effort. “It’s nice, any time you get something,” he said in reaction to the news. “It’s nice.”

To have such support from his players, and to receive recognition from the likes of Carlisle and Gentry… “That means more,” he admits. “We all see what everybody’s doing. When you hear that from a coaching standpoint, you like that a lot.”