On Saturday, the Sixers formally announced the hiring of Doc Rivers to be the team’s next head coach.
First, some thoughts on the hire:
Throughout the coaching search, my personal favorite candidate was Ty Lue. I think he’s a really good coach, and in his time in Cleveland he showed both his ability to corral star players with big egos, and also his malleability to adjust his game plans during the playoffs.
I also liked Mike D’Antoni. I wasn’t at all dissuaded by the current roster’s antithetical personnel for D’Antoni’s historically high-powered offenses mainly because, to me, an MDA hire would signal a true roster transformation. Modernizing the player personnel of the team would be a wonderful change, and should be heavily considered no matter who sits in the coaching chair.
Then came Rivers, who parted ways with the LA Clippers last week, following a disappointing exit in the Western Conference Semifinals. In Rivers, the Sixers saw a coach who has experienced massive success in the league, and carries with him a league-wide respect that very few people in the NBA-at-large can match.
Rivers is not without a few blemishes on his record. He has coached three teams that have blown 3-1 series leads in the playoffs. While I definitely believe that these marks against him are legitimate and deserve a seat at the table of the Doc Rivers conversation, I also think it wise to consider the counterpoint made by NBC Sports’ Tom Haberstroh:
Not every team coached by Rivers has displayed an impervious locker room, either. Most notably, the mid-2010s Clippers became a particularly fractured bunch by the end of the run from the Blake Griffin-Chris Paul-DeAndre Jordan core.
All that being said, I think the Sixers ended up with the best of both worlds in hiring Doc. He has coached extensively in big games, won a championship, and seen firsthand what does and doesn’t work in building championship cultures. He has managed big personalities and weathered the storm of scandals foisted upon him. He is a leader in the NBA, irrespective of his team’s record or even his employment status. He’s the 11th-winningest coach in league history. Given all the public and private upheaval within this organization over the past five years, hiring Doc Rivers to be the face of the organization in 2020 is a boon for the 76ers.
Every coach carries their own idiosyncrasies and peccadillos, and most coaches with prior head coaching experience carry with them certain preferences for the players they’d like to coach. It’s rather common for a head coach to target a handful of players they’ve already coached to adjoin them in their new environment.
Let’s take a look at some players around the league that Doc has coached previously, who could reasonably be brought in via either trade or free agency.
Chris Paul (via trade)
Paul, of course, is the apple of many Sixers fans’ eyes as the new league year approaches and the trade winds start blowing. He just turned in a wonderful season in Oklahoma City, which landed him recognition on the All-NBA Second Team. Now, OKC seems destined to rebuild, and they will likely capitalize on Paul’s great season by dealing him elsewhere. His trade value is tricky to gauge, since Paul’s age (35) and massive contract make him an unseemly fit on many rosters. Just prior to last season, a smart front office (Houston) attached multiple first-round picks to Paul in order to trade him for a worse player (Russell Westbrook).
Prior to the Rivers hire, the Sixers had already been linked to Paul on the trade market.
As many fans know, by the end of Paul’s tenure in LA, he and Doc’s relationship had famously grown acrimonious to the degree that Paul even cited the relationship for a driving reason for his exit. That Clippers team was a mess, and it seems both men are fairly culpable in its failure. However, in recent years, both Paul and Rivers have spoken about mending fences between one another. They’ve even gone so far as to say they’ve been golf buddies in recent months. In the Orlando Bubble, reporters noted that Paul leaned on Doc’s stewardship in closed-door meetings following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
The thought here is that, while there is plenty of turbulent history between the two, things seem to have thawed enough for that history to no longer be a non-starter in a potential reunion.
JJ Redick (via trade)
We won’t spend too much time here, as JJ’s value and import to the Sixers is well-trod territory at this point. Redick was a part of that same splintered locker room with CP and Doc in LA. Heading into the final year of a two-year pact he signed with New Orleans, Redick’s age (36) misaligns his timeline with that of his current young teammates, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram. If Rivers and the Sixers are interested, you’d think the price wouldn’t be too high to regift Joel Embiid with his dribble-hand-off partner once again.
Austin Rivers (FA, player option)
I actually think this would be a bad idea, but omitting Rivers’ son would be an oversight. Austin Rivers has actually turned himself into a solid two-way rotational player, but he’s been a rather divisive figure in the past when playing for his father, and the Sixers ought to avoid welcoming in any potential strangeness in the form of a player of Austin’s caliber.
JaMychal Green (FA, player option)
Green, who was acquired by the Clippers midway through the 2018-19 season, seems like a solid fit on many benches throughout the league. Now 29, he has rounded out his game enough to become a competent backup power forward who plays solid, hard-nosed defense and shoots consistently from deep. Over the past two seasons, Green shot 39 percent from deep on three attempts per game.
One would think that a JaMychal Green signing would either succeed or portend the exit of current Sixer Mike Scott, as the pair play the same position in an overlapping way. Scott could become a salary throw-in during trade talks as the Sixers aim to revamp the roster.
(It should be noted that Scott also played for Doc in 2018, prior to being traded from Los Angeles to Philly in the Tobias Harris deal.)
Jamal Crawford (UFA)
Let me just get this right out on Front Street: Jamal Crawford has not been a helpful player as it pertains to winning basketball games in many years. Signing him with any sort of consistent on-court role in mind would be a severe miscalculation and misuse of resources and cap space.
With that being said, I do think there may be a tiny chance that Doc decides to bring in Crawford as the last man on the bench as he aims to implement a strong culture in the Sixers’ locker room. For all his on-court deficiencies and plus/minus failings, Crawford has long been an unassailable and beloved teammate. Throughout much (all?) of last season, the Sixers lacked strong leadership and sturdy connective tissue in the team’s culture. That culture needs to be revamped by Rivers, Embiid and Ben Simmons, firstly, but it could also be buoyed by Crawford’s addition — especially if the complications attendant with COVID-19 continue to equip teams with extra roster spots.