NY Knicks: Remembering Doc Rivers’ short tenure with the team

Remembering Doc Rivers’ short tenure with the New York Knicks

In light of yesterday’s news that the Los Angeles Clippers relieved Doc Rivers of his duties as head coach, it’s important to remember his short tenure with the New York Knicks, especially as it laid the foundation for him to become a successful head coach in the NBA.

Rivers joined the Knicks nearly 8+ years ago to this date in a three-way deal involving the Los Angeles Clippers & Orlando Magic. The Knicks received Charles Smith along with Rivers while dealing Mark Jackson to the Clippers. The loss of the hometown point guard in Jackson temporarily hurt, but coach Pat Riley valued Rivers’ veteran presence, floor general capabilities, and defensive ability in the path to return the Knicks back to its championship glory.

Rivers split point guard duties with Greg Anthony during the 1992-93 season, before taking over the full-time starting position after the NBA suspended Anthony for his role in the infamous brawl with the Phoenix Suns. Rivers nonetheless helped cement the Knicks as the best defensive team in the league and were only a Charles Smith layup away from potentially reaching the NBA Finals.

Unfortunately, the 1992-93 season was the last playoff opportunity for Rivers as a Knick. Rivers tore his ACL in December 1993, shutting him down for the remainder of the season, including the magical run to the NBA Finals. Upon his return from injury, he was behind both Derek Harper & Greg Anthony on the depth chart. He subsequently asked to be released and signed with the San Antonio Spurs where he ended his career after the 1995-96 season.

Aspirations of becoming a head coach

While Rivers only spent a short time donning the orange and blue, his experience had a profound impact on the trajectory of his post-NBA career. In 2019, Rivers spoke about his coaching experiences before a matinee matchup against the Knicks in the Staples Center. Rivers was asked about the trade to the Knicks and mentioned that Riley was the reason he got into coaching.

Rivers spent a season as the head scout for the Spurs before becoming the head coach of the Orlando Magic for the 1999-2000 season. Early on during his Magic tenure, Rivers had the opportunity to coach a few former Knick teammates in Monty Williams & Patrick Ewing.

Doc Rivers was a potential candidate for a Knicks GM role

Interestingly enough, Rivers contacted team president Dave Checketts in 1999, inquiring about the open role of General Manager. Per Ian O’Connor’s 2010 ESPN piece:

In the spring of ’99, before becoming coach of the Magic, Rivers talked to Checketts about replacing the fired Ernie Grunfeld as the Knicks’ GM.

“Doc always saw New York as a special place,” said Steve Kauffman, his longtime representative and friend. “He would’ve liked to have stayed there forever. Whether it was as a player, a coach or in management, he wanted to be a Knick for life.”

Per reports, Rivers also inquired about the head coaching position, too. These conversations happened between April-May 2019, right before the Knicks began their magical journey to the NBA Finals.

Midway through the Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers, Rivers agreed to become the next head coach for the Orlando Magic. Checketts subsequently hired Scott Layden as the Knicks’ new General Manager. The rest is history.

There is no doubt that there are plenty of head coaching opportunities for Doc Rivers in the immediate future.