In more than three decades as an NBA franchise, the Orlando Magic have only had one head coach named NBA Coach of the Year. In fact, he didn’t have a winning record or make the playoffs that season, but he earned the title on this day two decades ago.
A rookie head coach, Doc Rivers earned that distinction on April 26, 2000. In his first season with Orlando, Rivers led the Magic to a 41-41 record.
During an obvious rebuilding campaign, Orlando had parted ways with staples of the franchise such as Anfernee Hardaway, Horace Grant and the franchise’s first-ever draft pick, Nick Anderson. Picked largely as a cell dweller, Orlando stayed in the playoff race until the next-to-last game of the season.
Led by guard Darrell Armstrong, the 1999-00 Magic were known as for their “Heart and Hustle.” Armstrong led the team by averaging 16.2 points, 6.1 assists and 2.1 steals while starting all 82 games. In the frontcourt, forward Bo Outlaw, also a fan favorite, epitomized hustle.
The Magic had five players average in double-figures during the campaign and nine that averaged at least eight points. Ron Mercer, a midseason addition, provided some needed offense while young players like Ben Wallace, John Amaechi, Chucky Atkins and Pat Garrity all made their presences felt on the NBA level.
A hard-fought 85-83 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the 81st game of the season would ultimately decide the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Still, Orlando would exceed all expectations that season under Rivers.
Rivers would last more than four seasons in Orlando and lead the Magic to the playoffs in each of the next three seasons. A 1-10 start to the 2003-04 season would be Rivers’ undoing with the Magic as he was fired early in the campaign.
Since then, Rivers has coached the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers where he’s earned the reputation for being one of the league’s premier coaches. With a core that included Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, Rivers coached Boston to the 2007-08 world championship. The Celtics returned to the NBA Finals two years later, but fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games.
For all of his success elsewhere, Rivers has been named NBA Coach of the Year just once. That came in his first season as an NBA head coach and with the Orlando Magic. He was given that distinction on this day 20 years ago.