Doc Rivers was introduced as the Sixers head coach Monday afternoon, taking over for Brett Brown after seven seasons that spanned a highly-controversial rebuild and a handful of disappointing playoff exits.
The former NBA champion and Coach of the Year is a respected veteran, taking the reigns with the Orlando Magic in 1999 after retiring from the league as a consistent and steady two-way point guard who played for four teams over the span of 13 seasons.
At 58 years old, the Sixers will be his fourth coaching job, and he’ll have his work cut out for him in taking a clunky roster and squeezing more out of the burgeoning young talent at his disposal.
Five quotes I thought were worth mentioning from Monday’s press conference:
1. He thought about taking a break
Rivers was fired by the Clippers after a second-round exit in which they blew a 3-1 series lead. He spent seven years in Los Angeles after a long stint with the Celtics in which he won the 2008 NBA title and went to a second finals in 2010.
Doc mentioned that three teams called his agent after his firing, and he said the Sixers job was too good to pass up, though he admitted he was thinking about taking a step back from coaching:
“I love coaching. I absolutely love it. But I was not going to just coach anybody, I can tell you that. I was ready to take a break. It just depended on the team that was available, and if I thought that team, in my opinion, was ready to win. That excited me. When Elton called, it was an easy (choice) to get on a plane and take a look, for me. When you look at these players, these young players, and their potential, the fact that they’ve had so much success at the ages that they are already, and where I believe they can go, for me it’s a job you just couldn’t turn down. That’s why I’m here. Just really excited about it.”
It’s good to hear that the thought of coaching this team really swayed him and made for an easy decision. But if he was close to taking a break and stepping away from coaching (for how long, we don’t know), it raises questions about how much motivation and energy he has for this gig. We’ll see. He didn’t have a great series against the Nuggets.
2. He’s “not concerned” about Ben Simmons’ shooting, or lack thereof
On the jump shot topic, Rivers was asked how he gets Simmons to shoot a 15-footer:
“I don’t know yet. I’m not that concerned about it, like everyone else is. I really am not. I’m concerned about figuring out the best way to win. If it takes doing all that, then we’ll figure it out. I’m so much more concerned about team scoring than individual scoring. Individuals can create scoring and Ben is proven that he is a guy who can create scoring, whether that’s him doing it, or creating for other people on the team. He’s an All-Star and an all-defensive player. The games him and Joel have played together, they win 65% of the time, so I don’t see a lot of bad there. He’s young, and there are things we’ll work on and get him better at. Get him better at attacking. But I can’t tell you yet how I’m going to do that.”
Hopefully this means ending the power forward experiment and putting the ball back in Simmons’ hands. He’s not going to stand in the corner and take catch and shoot threes. He can’t really play the Draymond Green role with Embiid on the floor. You can work him around the elbow a bit, but point guard seems like the natural way to continue.
3. He’ll work together with Elton Brand
A lot of questions about who’s running the show in Camden. We’ve been told that Elton Brand is 100% the guy after his admission that the Brett Brown/Ned Cohen/Alex Rucker collaboration didn’t work. With the Clippers, Rivers also made the personnel decisions for a time (as President of Basketball Ops), which makes you wonder how involved he’ll be in those matters with the Sixers.
“We’ll work together. That’s one of the things that was so exciting about this job, to have that opportunity with Elton. I think we have a chance to build something great here, not just on the court. I actually think it starts off the court. We have to get that part right. That’s exciting. I think Elton and I will have a chance to form an amazing partnership together, and we’ll grow from there.”
Nothing concrete, but I think most Sixers fans would feel better about a Brand/Rivers partnership than anything involving the Colangelo leftovers. I know it sounds harsh to call Rucker and Cohen “leftovers,” but the nature of the former GM’s exit unfortunately screwed them from a public perception standpoint.
4. Can the Sixers funky and big lineup work?
We know the Embiid/Al Horford on-court fit isn’t perfect, and that’s something Rivers is going to have to figure out, unless Brand can pull off a miracle and somehow move that Horford contract.
Rivers on his two big guys:
“At some point, they’ll absolutely have to play together, but I can’t tell you what my starting lineup is going to be on the first day of my job. I need more time for that. I’ll tell you this – we’re going to put out whatever unit we think is best to help us win. That’s just not to start the game, that’s through the game, it’s a 48-minute game. There will be a lot of lineups and rotations we’ll put on the floor, and that we’ll keep changing, and we’ll keep working at it until we get the right lineup.”
“I think you have to be who you are. The Lakers weren’t worried about going small. They actually went bigger. I think the mistake a lot of teams have made is everybody wanting to be Golden State but no one can shoot like Golden State, so to me everyone made a mistake. You have to be the best version of you and not apologize for that. This team has great size, great athleticism, great multi-positional players. I think that is new. I think that is the new way. I think what I do like, again, from afar, is this team has the ability to morph into three or four different lineups that can create problems for other teams. And that’s something we will definitely do here.”
He did mention he wants to increase the pace of the Sixers, but Doc’s Clippers teams were generally on the slower side of the NBA. Not a lot of elite transitional play.
And the ironic thing is that the Golden State comment is sort of an unknowing shot at Brett Brown, whose teams played more like the Warriors than anybody else in the NBA. Pass, move, shoot, share the ball, etc. A lot of his motion offense concepts mirrored things that the Warriors were doing, and when it was clicking, it was fun to watch. Unfortunately he didn’t have the personnel to do it this year, and when he did have the players in 2017 and 2018, the defense and late-game management wasn’t good enough.
5. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons can play together
There’s always a lot of buzz around breaking up Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and building the team around only one of those guys. Personally, I always felt like you’d be jumping the gun if you did that before giving another coach a shot at unlocking their potential, and Rivers thinks his stars can play together:
“They’ve won 65 percent of the games that they’ve played in, right? So it clearly works when they play together. If you’ve watched my teams, I rarely say that a guy is a 1, a 2 – I don’t get lost in the minutiae. I don’t get lost in what position guys play. I look at how many points we score as a team. I don’t care how we score. My teams have always been very good offensively, in the top five overall. And we score points, and we score points in a lot of different ways.”
Ben and Joel were most successful on the offensive end when playing with a stretch four (Dario Saric, Ersan Ilyasova), a three and D wing player (Robert Covington), and a sniper at the two (JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli). Those lineups weren’t always fantastic defensively, but they scored a ton of points.
- He’s cool with being called Glenn. This is a goofy little quirk from the fact that Marc Zumoff never referred to him as “Doc” during Sixers broadcasts, since the only “Doc” in Philly is Julius Erving. (this came from a separate media thing)
- Rivers was asked about ACCOUNTABILITY (our favorite word), and said that it has to be “throughout the team,” but I liked that he pointed out that players specifically do have to hold themselves accountable.
- He loved coaching Tobias Harris and called him a “multi-positional” player. He noted that he was moved back and forth between a 3 and 4 in Los Angeles. Called him a “terrific straight-line driver” and noted that he put him in a ton of pick and rolls.
- He spoke highly of Matisse Thybulle and Shake Milton and also spoke with them on the phone.