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Report: Montrezl Harrell situation played key role in Doc Rivers’ departure

Clippers, Doc Rivers, Montrezl Harrell, Ivica Zubac

Details are unsurprisingly emerging about the series of events that led the Los Angeles Clippers and Doc Rivers to part ways on Monday, 12 days after the team’s disappointing loss to to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals.

One reported point of contention between Rivers and the front office was the coach’s insistence on favoring Montrezl Harrell in the playoffs over center Ivica Zubac. Harrell won Sixth Man of the Year in 2020, but noticeably struggled in the bubble after missing a month with sickness and mourning the passing of his grandmother in July.

As The Athletic’s Jovan Buha notes, Zubac proved to be a more productive player in the restart, especially when paired with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Plus, he seemed to be the better matchup against Denver and the Dallas Mavericks. Nuggets Nikola Jokic even noted the obvious differences in his matchups against both players.

The stats don’t lie here:

L.A. posted a “team-worst minus-11.6 net rating with [Harrell] on the floor in the playoffs, including a mind-blowing minus-30.1 net rating while sharing the floor with Leonard and George,” Buha writes. “In comparison, the Clippers had a plus-17.7 net rating with Zubac on the floor in the playoffs and a plus-11.1 net rating with Zubac alongside Leonard and George, both marks ranked No. 1 among the team’s rotation players…There was an internal thought process of ‘How does Rivers not see that Zubac is the more productive player and the better postseason matchup?’

Per Buha’s reporting, some members of the Clippers organization felt that while Harrell brought his typical energy on offense, the effort didn’t translate to the defensive end. Yet, Rivers stuck with Harrell, whom he considers to be the superior player to Zubac.

In general, Rivers’ “reluctance to develop or empower the team’s younger talent throughout his tenure” was a second point of contention with the organization.

Rivers failed to make the conference finals in seven seasons in LA.