Much Respect to Doc Rivers, But He Seems Like a “Retread” Hire in 2020

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Are Sixers fans sure they want Doc Rivers?

Not all Sixers fans, but those who would prefer him to the rumored Tyronn Lue or Mike D’Antoni, who appear to round out the trio of finalists for the vacant head coaching job.

Rivers was fired by the Clippers after they blew a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the Orlando bubble and met with Sixers brass on Wednesday night in Philadelphia, according to multiple reports and a video from John “Airport” Clark.

First things first –

Credit where it’s due. Doc is a championship-winning coach and former NBA Coach of the Year. He almost had a second ring when the Celtics went out in seven games to a Kobe Bryant-led Lakers team. He’s a respected veteran with a good reputation and coaching resume that goes back more than two full decades now.

The problem with Rivers is that the last five years in Los Angeles were not good. His teams won just one playoff series during that span, and suffered three first round exits while missing the playoffs entirely in 2018. The general consensus is that he underachieved with prime Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, and should have done more with those mid-decade squads that consistently won 50+ games, only to be bounced in the second round.

This year, in the bubble, his insistence on playing Montrezl Harrell over Ivica Zubac was a big part of why the Clippers collapsed, blowing double-digit leads in three straight games. His starting lineup performed well in that series, but the trouble began when Zubac was off the floor and Nikola Jokic was able to have his way on the offensive end, finishing the series with 34 points in game six and a triple-double in game seven, his first of the playoffs.

That’s just one example of the micro-management that let Rivers and the Clippers down, and if 76ers fans hated Brett Brown’s “rotations,” then they would have screamed bloody murder watching Doc handle his personnel in 2020.

One argument for Rivers is that, as a respected NBA vet, he might command more respect from Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, which hypothetically elevates their game or brings them to the next level. I’m not so sure that’s quite accurate though, since LA had a leadership vacuum this year and the Lob City teams weren’t exactly best friends. I don’t know how much of that we can realistically pin on the head coach, since sometimes the players just don’t mesh, but the thought is that a great leader can get everybody to put their differences aside and turn 100% of their focus to winning a championship.

Another argument for Rivers is that Tobias Harris, the Sixers highest-paid player, enjoyed his best basketball under Doc. In two half-seasons with the Clips, Harris got his three point number up to a career-high 42% and crested 20 points per game for the first time ever. No doubt Doc Rivers would be beneficial to Tobias moving forward.

The real topic here, and I might be burying the lede, but honestly we have to ask ourselves if any coach is doing anything with this Sixers roster, right now. I don’t think this team, as constructed, can go any further than the second round, so what exactly is the priority in a head coach? Mike D’Antoni’s system doesn’t fit here, and ironically, he’s somewhat similar to Brown in the a philosophical approach to the game (Brett admitted that he included MDA concepts into his motion offense). Rivers might not carry the team to the finals, but could be a short-term boon for Simmons, Embiid, and Harris. Lue seems to be in the same category, with much less in the “recent disappointment” department than Rivers. Tyronn is a guy who managed multiple strong personalities en route to a title, personalities like LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, JR Smith, and Tristan Thompson. You could argue he’d be just as good for the Sixers’ stars as Rivers.

If this team needs a short-term “culture change,” then maybe Rivers is the guy to do it. But ultimately you “play to win the game,” as the great Herm Edwards once said, and even if Doc got these stars to play at an elevated level, there’s no guarantee he’d be the right guy to actually coach that group to a title.

I feel dirty saying it, because I really like Doc Rivers and have a lot of respect for what he’s done over the course of his career, but based on an underwhelming track record dating back six or seven years now, he feels like a retread hire in 2020.

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