Report: Doc Rivers playing Montrezl Harrell over Ivica Zubac contributed to departure

Farbod Esnaashari

When Doc Rivers stepped down as head coach of the LA Clippers, many asked why. For those closely following the team, the answer was always about rotations. According to a report from Jovan Buha, that was Steve Ballmer's reason as well.

"Two philosophical points of contention between Rivers and the organization were, more recently, his insistence on playing backup center Montrezl Harrell over starting center Ivica Zubac and, at large, his reluctance to develop or empower the team’s younger talent throughout his tenure," Buha said.

For those who haven't seen the data, the Clippers were significantly worse off when Harrell guarded Nikola Jokic, over Ivica Zubac. These are some of the specific numbers:

Throughout the season Rivers has neglected to play Ivica Zubac heavy minutes, when he's largely been a positive on the court; Zubac averaged 18.4 MPG in the regular season, and 24.6 MPG in the playoffs. The development of his game should have occurred throughout the regular season, and that was something the Clipper organization emphasized to Rivers.

"It was clear to many that Zubac was the better matchup on both ends versus Dallas and Denver," Buha said. "There was an internal thought process of 'How does Rivers not see that Zubac is the more productive player and the better postseason matchup?'"

The data was clearly apparent, not only to Rivers, but to everyone following the team. Not only was there an eye test to follow, but a clear +/- between playing Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell. Yet somehow in Game 7, Zubac played 14 minutes, and Harrell played 26 minutes.

"Meanwhile, Rivers maintained, publicly to the media and privately to his staff and the organization, that Harrell was the better player, in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary," Buha said.

The NBA playoffs are a game of adjustments. There's no reason why the Clippers shouldn't have defeated the Denver Nuggets while they were up 3-1. Throughout the playoffs, the Clippers had their lack of adjustments exposed, and it ultimately cost Doc Rivers his job.

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