The Philadelphia 76ers are once again eliminated from the NBA playoffs before reaching the Eastern Conference Finals. Something has to change.
They’ve bowed out in the East Semis in back-to-back seasons, and four of the last five campaigns. They haven’t been able to get any further in the last two decades. The last time they made it past the East Semis, and eventually the NBA Finals, was when they had a generational talent in Allen Iverson leading the way back in 2001. They just so happen to have one again in Joel Embiid but haven’t found the right recipe to help him get over the hump.
While it’s easy to say that you can reshuffle the roster around Joel Embiid to find him the right co-stars to get him over the hump, it’s much easier said than done. Moving the ghost of James Harden probably doesn’t net you the same return as you would have a few seasons ago, or even just a few months back. Tobias Harris might need a sweetener for other teams to take him. Realistically speaking, the more practical move would be to replace the man calling the plays – Sixers head coach Doc Rivers.
The Sixers, however, reportedly have no plans to replace Doc Rivers. But that move could ultimately be the wrong one.
Daryl Morey says Doc Rivers will be back as coach next season.
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) May 13, 2022
Here are the two (2) biggest reasons why the Sixers keeping Doc Rivers is a huge mistake:
2 glaring reasons Sixers are erring with Doc Rivers
No recent track record of success
Doc Rivers is one of the most well-respected coaches in the NBA. The Sixers play-caller has made the NBA’s top 15 coaches of all-time list and has a championship ring in his trophy case. But the man just hasn’t had the touch in a long, long time.
He failed to get past the West Semis with a stacked Los Angeles Clippers squad featuring Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. While their peak was during the rise of the Golden State Warriors, they never even got far enough to face them in the postseason during their NBA Finals runs. It always felt like they exited a little too early each time despite having the talent that seemed worthy to contend for a title.
Then there was his lone year with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, which looked like a team destined to win the title. But alas a blown 3-1 lead in the West Semis against the Denver Nuggets booted them out of NBA bubble contention early and spoiled a date with the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers. Sound familiar? Tyronn Lue then went on to get the same team, with an injured Kawhi Leonard at that, into the Conference Finals a season after Rivers’ departure.
Doc Rivers has more recently been known for blowing series leads rather than being a championship-level coach. It’s been a decade since his last conference finals despite having all-time players and multiple All-Stars in each one of those 10 seasons.
Doc Rivers doesn’t bring the culture
The Phoenix Suns-New Orleans Pelicans series was arguably the most compelling of the 2022 first round. It featured two teams at different stages of their progression, but both with two coaches who have the complete buy-in from their players.
The Suns have developed an air of confidence and championship swagger in the past two seasons under coach Monty Williams. Willie Green persevered with a Pelicans team destined for the lottery, helping right the ship and turn them into a playoff team by season’s end. Players from both sides have been hyperbolic about how motivated they are to play under their coaches.
We see it all over the NBA with coaches in different situations around the league. From Taylor Jenkins with the upstart Memphis Grizzlies, to Erik Spoelstra and Nick Nurse in post-championship situations in Toronto and Miami respectively. Teams that have developed an innate culture that is spearheaded by their head coach calling the shots. Can you really say the same about the Sixers?
For all the past heights reached and respect garnered by Doc Rivers, his teams haven’t been known for fostering a thriving team culture. He was vocal with comments against Ben Simmons after last season’s playoff exit and hasn’t been afraid to pin some blame on James Harden this season. While certain call-outs are valid, it feels an awful lot like scapegoating at times and definitely won’t motivated a player to give 100% for their coach.
The Sixers have Joel Embiid in their prime and a roster filled with veterans. Each year that goes by is one that closer to the end of the process, one way or another. Doc Rivers just isn’t the man to cap off the process with a ring.