With the NBA regular season almost here, Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers hopped on The Woj Pod with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski to discuss a wide range of topics ahead of what could be a promising season in Philly.
Right off the jump, Woj questioned the Sixers leader on the all-too familiar subject of his team’s toughness, and the offseason signings, such as P.J. Tucker, that improved the organization in that department.
For Rivers, it wasn’t just about adding players that have proven to carry that toughness with them, but whether or not those guys can bring it out in the others.
“It doesn’t matter how many players you bring in that are gonna bring it,” he said, referring to the toughness aspect. “They have to bring along the guys that don’t have it, that don’t know it, haven’t seen it.”
The added competition for spots in the rotation helps with that, too.
“We’re 12 deep, and the guys that have been here have always played, they’ve been comfortable.” Rivers said. “Now all of a sudden, they’re looking around and there’s no guarantees on who’s gonna play.
“That’s gonna force some type of mental toughness, so that’s been really good for us.”
How Rivers has had to evolve as a coach was also a main topic of discussion, with Woj bringing up the conversation he had with James Harden while mic’d up during a training camp practice.
Rivers joked that he forgot he was live during that conversation, which provided a peak into how player-coach talks can go.
“The fact that it did get out, it just showed the communication you have to have,” Rivers said. “As coaches we have to sell the program, we have to sell what we need to do and we have to get ourselves to believe it.”
“Even though James is a superstar, and he is, you still gotta make sure that we’re all on the same page,” he added.
The discussion continued to revolve around Harden, as well as his developing relationship with Joel Embiid.
According to Rivers, communicating with Harden and delivering the message of what type of role he expected out of the 33-year-old came with its bumps along the way.
“It was so brief, the communication part was hard because he ran in, then played and the season’s over,” Rivers said. “I always knew James was a good passer, you knew that but he was such a great scorer you didn’t see his ability to see the floor and play make.”
In the era of super teams, the need for players to sacrifice something from their game for the greater good (a championship) is essential, although sometimes there is reluctance to the idea.
Rivers acknowledged the difficulty that comes with getting players to buy into that idea, especially with players who have never won a title.
“The number one thing is the want to part, the number two thing is the actual doing it part,” he said. “The old thing is you ask every player do they wanna win a championship, everyone is gonna say yes. When you ask them to give up something, then that goes down to about 20 percent.
“James has been in the league a long time, has yet to win. Joel has now been in the league for a while, has yet to win. Clearly, we have to find a way for them to win and both of them have to give up something to each other.”
In the 24 games Embiid and Harden played together, though, they quickly became the number one pick-and-roll duo in the entire league.
The excitement for what a full season of the partnership can bring to the table is palpable, with Rivers admitting it wasn’t even close to as efficient as it could’ve been in the brief time they shared the court last season.
“It was at 50 percent efficiency as far as I was concerned,” he said. “What I saw this summer, if we can get that up to 75 percent efficiency, we will be very hard to beat, especially down the stretch in games.”
Woj later brought up the rapid rise of Tyrese Maxey, who has already shown in preseason that a massive leap to his game could be well under way.
As his coach, the infectious personality of Maxey and his hunger to improve every single day gives Rivers his own little energy boost on a daily basis.
“First of all, he’s never had a bad day,” Rivers said. “I think since he’s been here, he’s had two days where I can remember that he was emotionally down. Game  when we lost to Miami, that last game he was down you could feel it.”
He continued: “Those type of guys, as a coach, you don’t want them to ever get spoiled, you don’t want them to ever change. You want them to stay in that happy zone. He competes, he’s tough, but he loves it and he’s having fun doing it and his work ethic is contagious.
“Those are the guys that give you energy, that make you love coaching.”