This year hasn’t been kind to the world or the Philadelphia 76ers. While the 2019-2020 season brought high expectations with the offseason addition of Al Horford and Josh Richardson, and the resigning of Tobias Harris, the team fell well short of expectations. The Sixers went 51-31 in the 2019 season as the third seed in the Eastern Conference and making it to the second round of the playoffs; the team finished the 2020 season going 43-30 for sixth place in the Eastern Conference only to be decisively swept in the first round of the 2020 NBA playoffs by the dreaded Boston Celtics. For a team with championship ambitions, the 76ers failed to meet expectations back-to-back years. Something needed to be done. But what?
The first step in fixing the 76ers this offseason was terminating Coach Brett Brown. 76ers fans finally got what they’ve been wanting for a long time, and that was for the removal of Brett Brown. Just a day after the Sixers were swept by the Boston Celtics, it was announced on Aug. 24 that Brett Brown had been fired. And Brown does not appear to be a candidate for any of the NBA head coaching vacancies.
Now the question was, who is going to be the 76ers’ new head coach? Was it going to be former Rockets Coach Mike D’antoni and his high octane offensive game plan? Or was it going to be Ty Lue and his championship pedigree and ability to work with multiple superstars (Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and Lebron James)? The answer is neither D’antoni nor Lue became the head coach of the 76ers. On Sept. 28, it was announced that the Clippers and head coach Doc Rivers had “parted ways.” Within an hour after the announcement was made it was reported that the 76ers had already made contact with Doc Rivers and his agent. 72 hours later, it was announced by ESPN NBA Insider Adrian Wojnarowski that Doc Rivers had reached an agreement with the 76ers on a five-year contract to become the 25th head coach in the history of the franchise. And the first-ever to be hired with a head coaching World Championship already on his resume.
Rivers brings a great deal of much-needed pedigree and experience to the 76ers. Before he was a coach, Rivers enjoyed a 13-year professional basketball career as a point guard playing for the Atlanta Hawks, Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs. Once he was finished with his playing career, Rivers went into coaching. Since 1999, Rivers has been a head coach in the NBA. Rivers started his coaching career with the Orlando Magic winning the NBA Coach of the year in his first season. After coaching the Magic for four seasons Rivers went on to coach the Boston Celtics from 2004-2013. In six of those nine seasons with the Celtics, Rivers had his teams above 500. In the 2007-2008 season, the Rivers-led Boston Celtics went 66-16 and went on to win the NBA Finals in six games against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
In a highly unusual 2013 transaction, Rivers was actually acquired by the Los Angeles Clippers from the Celtics in exchange for an unprotected first-round draft pick. Before Rivers joined the Clippers, the Clippers were known as a perennial losing organization that could never compete with their city neighbors, the Los Angeles Lakers, or most of the rest of the NBA. In Rivers’ seven seasons with the Clippers, the team appeared in the playoffs in six of those seasons. In addition, Rivers adeptly navigated the Donald Sterling crisis that arose in his first year as Clippers head coach. Rivers stated that he would not return as head coach for the following season with Sterling still in control as owner. Sterling was mandated to sell the team, which he did later that summer. Before Rivers arrived the Clippers had only made the playoffs nine times in 43 years.
Despite being the most successful coach in Clippers franchise history, River’s tenure with the team didn’t come without disappointments that ultimately led to his leaving. With Rivers at the helm, the Clippers blew two 3-1 series leads in the playoffs. The first came in 2015 in the second of the playoffs against the Houston Rockets, and then again this past season in the NBA Bubble against the Denver Nuggets. Despite helping turn the Clippers into a respected organization and a free agent destination, Rivers finished his stint with a playoff record of 20-26 without ever advancing past the second round of the playoffs.
Doc Rivers has an opportunity with the 76ers to flip the script and prove to all the doubters that he can get past the second round. The coach did it with the Celtics, winning an NBA title, and has a chance to do it in Philadelphia. With the 76ers, Rivers gets an opportunity to work with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, who he in the past compared to Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Magic Johnson. We should only be so lucky. Rivers was considering taking a break from coaching when he parted ways with the Clippers, but when the 76ers called, he felt the opportunity was too good to pass up. Speaking on a conference Zoom call on Oct. 5 at the 76ers’ practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, Rivers couldn’t hold back his excitement. “When [General Manager Elton Brand] called, it was an easy ‘Get on the plane and take a look’ for me,” Rivers said. “You look at these players, these young players, and their potential… the fact that they’ve had so much success in so many ways at the ages they are already, and where I think 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.”
The 76ers definitely landed a big name in Doc Rivers, but will he be able to do what Brett Brown couldn’t? It certainly feels like it already, but we will see when the upcoming season begins, the logistics of which are posing more questions than answers at the moment.