Why Hiring Doc Rivers was the Right Choice



New England Patriots NFL football team CEO Robert Kraft, center, and Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, left, talks with Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid after an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, in Philadelphia. The 76ers won 122-113. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

3 days after parting ways with the Los Angeles Clippers, Doc Rivers stepped into the role of head coach for the Philadelphia 76ers. But the real question all Sixers fans are wondering is if he can actually work. After devastating playoff runs during the Brett Brown era; including a bittersweet 4-1 loss against the Boston Celtics during the second-round in 2018, a devastating 4-3 loss in the second-round to the Toronto Raptors the following season, and a hopeless 4-0 loss first-round loss against the Boston Celtics a little over a month ago. Currently, hope and faith in the franchise are quickly diminishing amongst all fans, and Doc Rivers is the last shot for a save.

But why was Doc fired in the first place? During his 7 year tenure with the Clippers, he made the playoffs 6 times. That sounds impressive…until some context is added. Rivers tended to severely under-coach in his playoff battles. Through all 6 playoff runs, he only won a series 3 times. 3 times…with talented players like Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan early on and last season: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Finding success was a major struggle, and due to that, the Clippers decided it was time to move on.

That ultimately begs the question: Why did the Sixers hire him?

The options came down to Doc Rivers and Mike D’Antoni; the Sixers hired Rivers, which was the right decision. D’Antoni doesn’t fit what the Sixers need. He loves to play his teams in a high-paced style offense. While it’s an extremely enticing playstyle and would make the Sixers an exciting team, it is not at all applicable to the team. Playing like this would require a lot of smaller, fast players who can shoot the ball from three. If there’s one thing we all know: the Sixers are built the complete opposite of that. The starting lineup was the tallest in the league and without an efficient three-point shooter. Adding to that, D’Antoni hasn’t coached a player like Joel Embiid. His high percentage of three-point shots would take away from his magical post offense, which is the best in the NBA, if utilized correctly.

Before his time in Houston, D’Antoni led the Nash-Stoudemire Suns teams, who were crucial in founding the “7 seconds” offensive style. This is an explosive way of playing, focusing on quick-playmaking, screens, and open threes. A huge overhaul of talent would need to take place to make a D’Antoni-style team. He also hasn’t ever reached the NBA Finals, something Doc did with the Celtics two times.

Alongside that, Doc Rivers has proven he can mesh multiple styles and employ different techniques that work on different teams. His flexibility fixed dysfunctional organizations and he has managed Hall-of-Famers such as Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and future Hall-of-Famers Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard-all with ease. 

It’s clear that Philadelphia is still in a win-now mode, and they aren’t looking to stop contending. Yet, Doc and the Sixers still have many challenges to overcome. The biggest problem with Doc Rivers (strikingly similar to Brett Brown) is his inability to make adjustments after halftime. He is the first coach in the NBA to blow three 3-1 leads. One game away in three series, yet he could not capitalize and win. It’s rather glaring and creates some sense of insecurity for the team. What can we expect from Rivers? There’s some optimism on a few things.  

The Sixers are currently dealing with chemistry issues, and it was quite obvious during the NBA Bubble seeding games. Rivers has been able to fix those types of issues and has been extremely impactful in player relationships and ego control. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will hopefully be able to learn from Doc Rivers and learn a new sense of maturity and accountability.

During the 19-20 season, the one thing that provided hope was the defensive impacts of both Embiid and Simmons. Simmons was a defensive player of the year candidate and landed on the All-Defensive First team this season. Embiid is great inside the paint and an efficient shot contester. This dynamic duo can be unleashed further by Rivers and could help the Sixers the most.

All of this being said, there are two things I look forward to seeing most: What will be done with Al Horford and Tobias Harris?

It’s safe to say that at least one will have to stay, and I think that will be Harris. He played the best ball of his career in LA, where he had  20.9 PPG on 50% shooting from the field and 43% from three. If Rivers can incorporate Tobias in the same way he did in LA, the Sixers could be surprising a lot of teams. 

Horford, on the other hand, needs to be traded, and there may be a player wanting to come here. Sacramento Kings shooting guard Buddy Hield has reportedly shown interest in Sixers, especially since the Doc hiring. He hasn’t been answering phone calls by Luke Walton, his current team’s coach, and is looking for a way out of Sacramento. A trade here would be perfect for Philly. Horford on his own likely won’t be enough, due to his large contract, and the Sixers may have to part with fan favorites like Matisse Thybulle. Hield may be seen in a Sixers uniform soon and will provide Philly with the 3-point shooting and spacing they have been desperately lacking.   

Rivers can bring a cultural revolution to the Sixers locker room and can bring leadership that has been lacking. The Sixers enter a new era. While there is plenty of uncertainty, there is also more optimism. It’s now time to go big and win or falter down the path back to rebuilding. These next few years with Rivers will be the most crucial years since the early 2000s with the legendary Allen Iverson. Rivers may not be the perfect coach, but he will do his best to make things work in Philadelphia.