ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) â€” All things considered, Doc Rivers would rather have been somewhere else Wednesday.
The playoffs began without his Orlando Magic last weekend, and winning the Red Auerbach Trophy as the NBA's coach of the year didn't soothe the pain of being eliminated from contention in the next-to-last game of the regular season.
``I tell you, I would have loved to have been in Indiana receiving this award,'' said Rivers, whose team finished a surprising 41-41 but finished a game behind Milwaukee in its bid for the eighth position in the Eastern Conference.
The Bucks meet the Pacers in Game 2 of their best-of-five, first-round series Thursday night.
``Having said that, getting it is still nice ... If you look at our organization, we're absolutely headed in the right direction. As tough as that loss to the Bucks was for me and the players, it makes you want it more now. It makes you put a value on what it takes to get things done.''
The Magic finished with a .500 record despite launching a massive rebuilding project that began with the trading of four of five starters from last year's team, including All-Star Penny Hardaway.
Starting four players â€” Darrell Armstrong, John Amaechi, Bo Outlaw and Ben Wallace â€” who were not drafted by any NBA team, Rivers kept the Magic in contention until the final week with a hustling, up-tempo style that relied on defensive pressure to create scoring opportunities.
Rivers, who played 13 seasons for the Hawks, Clippers, Knicks and Spurs before retiring in 1996 to become a television analyst for Turner Sports, is the first coach in league history to win the award without leading his team to the playoffs.
He's the third to receive it with a team that posted a record of .500 or below, and the fifth to be recognized after his first season, joining Harry Gallatin (1962-63), Johnny Kerr (1966-67), Mike Schuler (1986-87) and Larry Bird (1997-98) .
``It's gratifying because of the fact that people undervalued our players. I didn't mind them undervaluing me because I hadn't coached. But I did mind them undervaluing my players,'' Rivers said. ``I had felt from day one that we had better players than what everyone thought we did. And I think by the end of the season, that proved to be true.''
Rivers received 60 votes from a 121-member panel to win by seven votes over Phil Jackson, who led the Los Angeles Lakers to the league's top record. They were followed in the balloting by Charlotte's Paul Silas (3), Utah's Jerry Sloan (2) and Miami's Pat Riley, Phoenix's Scott Skiles and Toronto's Butch Carter (1 each).
Rivers said last week that he thought Jackson deserved the honor because teams are judged by the number of games they win, and coaches should be, too. He changed his tune Wednesday.
``I was being diplomatic,'' he said, breaking into laughter. ``To be honored next to names like Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson and Lenny Wilkens is a tremendous honor. I was joking today that the only time I had heard a Phil Jackson comparison to was that: `Boy, he's no Phil Jackson.' To be honored with him is real nice.''
Rivers replaced Hall of Famer Chuck Daly, who retired last May, and inherited a team that shared the best record in the Eastern Conference during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season.
But the Magic also were beaten in the first round of the playoffs by the younger, more athletic Philadelphia 76ers and management faced a critical decision on whether to try to keep Hardaway from fleeing as a free agent or rebuild without a marquee star.
General manager John Gabriel opted for the latter. And by season's end, the Magic made 37 player transactions involving 38 different players and cleared about $18 million under the salary cap to try to lure one or two big-name free agents to town this summer.
In addition, Orlando has accumulated nine first-round draft picks over the next five years, including three lottery picks in June. ``You think about what's happened here and it's amazing,'' Armstrong said.
``People are still going to say we overachieved. But we didn't. Overachieving is when a high school team beat a pro team or something like that. We felt like we had talent as good as any team, and Doc was part of that. We worked hard. That's how you win games. That's why it's not overachieving.''
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