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Sixers hire Doc Rivers: Pros and cons of franchise-defining decision

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Doc Rivers bubble sideline
Is Doc Rivers the right man to lead the Sixers forward? Photo from Liberty Ballers.

Just three days after being fired by the Clippers, Doc Rivers was all-but confirmed as the Philadelphia 76ers‘ new head coach. Philly’s interest was reported earlier this week and on Thursday it became public knowledge that he is heading to Philadelphia, likely on a five-year pact.

Rivers became the first coach in NBA history to blow three 3-1 leads when the Clippers were eliminated by the Denver Nuggets in the second round of the playoffs. The Clips’ meltdown, particularly late in Game 7, made a change inevitable, and Rivers was the scapegoat.

A title winner with the Boston Celtics in 2008 and widely respected by players around the league, Rivers arrives in Philadelphia with plenty of experience. The Sixers were clearly looking for a well-established coach – Mike D’Antoni was the other main candidate for the job before Rivers became available.

Upside of Rivers

The Sixers need to make roster changes this offseason. That is true regardless of the coach, but Rivers likely requires less of an overhaul than D’Antoni would have done. Al Horford will be the player most likely to be dealt, one would imagine, considering the relationship Rivers and Tobias Harris had in Los Angeles before Harris was dealt to Philly. Harris was enjoying the best year of his career, performing at a near-All-Star level.

Harris being put in positions to succeed is a ceiling-raiser for the Sixers. His struggles in the playoffs have held the team back. This, of course, relies on giving Rivers backcourt upgrades, but it’s a relevant point that he has worked well with Harris in the past.

Given some public comments flirting with the idea of a trade, it’s crucial that Joel Embiid is on board with any coaching hire. Per Ramona Shelburne, Embiid and Rivers have known each other for years after working together at a Basketball Without Borders trip. Motivating Embiid, keeping him engaged, is as important as anything when it comes to coaching these Sixers. Rivers has dealt with some challenging dressing room situations throughout his career – the Sixers will be hoping he can develop team chemistry.

There were Xs and Os criticisms of Brett Brown. While Rivers’ rotations were not perfect in the Clippers’ playoff exit, he is regarded as one of the best after timeout coaches in the league. His teams frequently rank among the best in the league defensively. The Sixers underachieved on that end last season – could Rivers be the man to make them realise their defensive potential?

Rivers’ weaknesses

The playoff failings are obvious. Some of them have been down to misfortune, but there’s no getting away from what is an unimpressive playoff record given the talent he has coached. The Sixers have been criticised for losing focus. That is the same remark that has been thrown at Rivers’ teams in the past. There will be many concerned that he isn’t the man to bring much-needed accountability to Philly.

Any Sixers fan who saw the Clippers against the Nuggets might worry about the halfcourt offence, too. The Sixers need personnel changes to help them in that regard anyway, so maybe it’s not fair to question how Rivers will make it work. As it stands, though, the Sixers have no competent pick-and-roll ball handler. Rivers likes to run pick-and-roll.

The Clippers, with much more offensive talent than the Sixers, became static in the playoffs. The offence was frequently disjointed. Is Rivers the man to ignite an offence? Can he be inventive enough to make Ben Simmons and Embiid an effective scoring force together?

Sixers play it safe

There are good reasons to get a veteran coach. It appears that’s what Embiid wanted, which is a good starting point. After redefining tanking with The Process, the Sixers stopped thinking outside the box. They chased names, and look where it got them. Hiring Rivers is a step in the same direction.

That’s not to say it will be a disaster. Rivers is a safe choice. For such a muddled roster, perhaps a risk was needed.

For the next few months, though, the Sixers’ focus must be on fixing this roster. They must add ball handling and shooting. Elton Brand will need to be bold. Unless major personnel changes are made, who the Sixers hired as coach will be an irrelevance.

There’s no denying the significance of this decision longer-term, however. Trading Embiid and/or Simmons becomes more likely with each disappointing season. Who knows, maybe the Sixers end up rebuilding once again if Rivers’ tenure doesn’t work out.





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