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Examining Doc Rivers’ First Coaching Staff in Philadelphia

Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

What a remarkable turn of events ever since summer’s end for Sixers fans. First, after firing Process mainstay Brett Brown, General Manager Elton Brand and Sixers managing partner Joshua Harris moved swiftly to hire longtime NBA pillar and championship winner Doc Rivers, shortly after he parted ways with the LA Clippers. Then, Brand added two well-regarded executives to his own staff in Peter Dinwiddie from Indiana and Prosper Karangwa from Orlando. And then — bam! The Sixers shocked the world by hiring a top-five executive in the league, as they named Daryl Morey the new President of Basketball Operations.

This picture still blows my mind.

The extent to which the Sixers’ long-term outlook has improved due to this turn of events cannot be overstated. The person now making final decisions in the front office is one of the most forward-thinking and innovative minds in all of basketball. The team’s head coach carries as much gravitas and commands as much respect as any coach in the league today.

As he’s had a head start on Morey — what with the order of operations being as funky as you’d anticipate for this team — Rivers is much further down the road of putting his stamp on the staff that will work under him in his first season in Philly.

Reports have now emerged of seven assistants who will be filling Doc’s first bench. As that should comprise the final tally, let’s take a look at each coach, one-by-one.

Dave Joerger

Phoenix Suns v Sacramento Kings Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Joerger (pronounced YAY-grr) is the most accomplished of Rivers’ set of assistants, and also the first that was reported soon after Doc’s hiring. Through two head coaching stints in Memphis and Sacramento from 2013 to 2019, Joerger compiled a 245-247 record. His teams consistently performed well defensively, and he showed a willingness to experiment on the offensive end with creative sets. The criticisms that have followed him so far seem to be related most to Joerger’s hard-edged personality, as he has clashed with both of the previous front offices he worked under. The hope, I’m sure, from the Sixers’ perspective is that — as an assistant — Joerger will be able to maximize his strengths as a coach, while not needing to worry about being entrusted with leading the entire team on a daily basis.

Dan Burke

2017 NBA Global Games Coaches Clinic - London Photo by Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images

Burke is likely best known to Philly faithful as being the Indiana Pacers assistant who bristled publicly about Sixers star Joel Embiid’s penchant for garnering foul calls:

When news of Burke’s hiring was first reported, Embiid was quick to take to Twitter in the good-natured way that only he can, assuaging any concerns of potential infighting ahead:

Burke is widely regarded as one of the best defensive coaches in the NBA — a reputation he’s earned by cutting his teeth with the Pacers since 1997. Now in Philly, he has immensely talented defensive personnel to work with, as he will be entrusted with squeezing a top-five defense out of Embiid, Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle and their teammates.

Pete Dominguez

There isn’t much publicly available on Dominguez — one of the coworkers that Rivers is bringing with him from LA to Philadelphia. First reported by The Athletic’s David Aldridge, Dominguez brings a unique background to the bench, as this will be his first coaching job in the NBA:

Sam Cassell

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Certainly the flashiest of the reported assistants joining the staff, Cassell is well-known by NBA fans for an accomplished 15-year career as a player in the league. As somewhat of a player-coach, Cassell’s final NBA season in 2008 was spent in Boston with Doc Rivers, where they together won a championship. He first became an assistant coach in 2009 with the Washington Wizards, where he spent five seasons, before joining Doc in LA in 2014. This past summer, Cassell interviewed for the Houston Rockets’ vacant head coaching position, and he’s seen as a rising star in the league. It’s only a matter of time until Cassell is the one holding the clipboard, but for now, the Sixers will benefit from Cassell’s steady personality and deft touch working with guards. Now all the Sixers have to do is find some guards.

Brian Adams

NBA: Summer League-Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Clippers Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Another of the coaches reported to migrate with Doc from the Clippers organization, Adams had most recently been the head coach of the Agua Caliente Clippers — LA’s G-League affiliate. Given his experience working with younger players, one would think Adams may be most qualified to fill a player development role on the staff, but we’ll see what’s what when all the moves are officially confirmed by the team.

Eric Hughes

Milwaukee Bucks Media Day 2015 Photo by Tom Lynn/NBAE via Getty Images

The only surviving member of Brett Brown’s staff in Philly this season, Hughes was hired prior to the 2019 season by the Sixers as a player development coach. Prior to that, Hughes had experience as an assistant coach in Toronto, Brooklyn, and Milwaukee, in addition to college positions with Illinois State, California, and Washington. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey first reported that Hughes would be retained.

Popeye Jones

Utah Jazz v Indiana Pacers Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Certainly the award winner for New Sixers Assistant With The Coolest Name, Jones confirmed that he would be joining Rivers’ staff over the weekend. Most recently of the Indiana Pacers, Jones played 11 NBA seasons from 1993-2004. According to his Wikipedia page, “Popeye” is a nickname given to Jones by his mother, who apparently cited the famous TV show of the same name being on when she returned home with a newborn Ronald Jerome Jones in 1970. Jones is well-renowned for his work in Indiana, helping to elevate players like Paul George and Roy Hibbert (also a current Sixers assistant) to All-Star status, and multiple Eastern Conference Finals.

(Note: there was also a report that Doc Rivers was interested in hiring Roy Rogers, an assistant most recently of The Chicago Bulls. Said “interest” has not yet escalated to a reported hiring.)

Most of the responsibility will lie with Rivers and the Sixers’ players to deliver on the court this season, but both parties appear they will be buoyed by an extremely accomplished and diverse group of assistants along the way.

I’ve never been prouder to be from Philadelphia than I was this weekend. My love and heartfelt appreciation to the voters, poll workers, and campaign employees who made it all possible.

I’m of no grand illusion that swapping out one president for another is some divine panacea that will cure all that ails this country and its people. But no longer being represented here and abroad by the current and soon-to-be-former president has got to be a start. See you next week.

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