Doc Rivers hasn’t always been considered one of the best coaches in the NBA.
He was first fired from the Orlando Magic in 2003 and seemed to be halfway out the door when the Celtics were struggling prior to the Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen trades.
He was unproven; a former player turned coach that may or may not have had what it takes to be a successful head man. But Rivers still had something going for him: the lessons learned from Pat Riley while playing under him in New York.
As coach of the Knicks, Riley stressed one thing more than anything else: defense. Sound familiar? Rivers, once he was given capable players, showed that he too could build a team based on team defense. Like Riley in New York, it might not always have been pretty, but it worked.
Five seasons after the big trades, Rivers has made five postseason appearances, winning a championship, taking one other trip to the NBA Finals, and two more to at least the semis. He’s controlled his superstars and worked at seamlessly integrating role players into the mix.
Woe is Spoe
When Rivers looks down the other end of the court at Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, he might see someone in somewhat of a similar situation.
No, Spoelstra never played in the NBA, but he too is now coaching a team with three superstar talents in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. He’s also coaching under the same man Rivers played under in Riley. Spoelstra was an assistant coach under Riley for years, named Riley’s successor as head coach prior to the 2008-09 season.
Spoelstra’s first few seasons as head coach have come under much scrutiny, like Rivers’ first few. When Doc got his players, he wasted no time making the most of them.
The clock is ticking for Spoelstra, who hopes to one day soon be able to say the same.