On Tuesday we got a rather surprising news update from former Liberty Baller, and one of the most credible NBA insiders in the industry from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer.
Apparently Sixers’ current head coach Doc Rivers has been connected to two Western Conference teams that may soon be in the market for a new coach.
“Doc Rivers, the Philadelphia 76ers’ head coach, is another active bench leader being mentioned by league personnel as a potential Lakers candidate. Rivers’ tenure in Philadelphia has also come into question of late, spurred by team president Daryl Morey’s deadline acquisition of James Harden and the mounting speculation that followed about a potential reunification with Harden’s former Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni.
Rivers has also been linked by several league sources as a potential replacement for the Jazz, in the event Snyder does depart Utah. Rivers was the head coach in Boston from 2004 to 2013 under current Jazz CEO Danny Ainge.”
It’s a bit unusual to hear of a musical chairs type of scenario like this from two playoff teams and one team, featuring LeBron James, that won a title not even two years ago. But here we are.
It’s probably safe to say Doc Rivers has endured a mini-rough patch in terms of local popularity.
Recently Joel Embiid did something he usually does not do and questioned the team’s rotation and strategy to slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo in what amounted to a two-point home loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. In just under five minutes Embiid was on the bench, Giannis did as he pleased and scored 14 points, sparking an eight-point run. The loss now anchors the Sixers in the standings a bit, they would be the two seed had they net one more win and dodged that one (or any other) loss. It could determine home court for what may be a playoff bloodbath. So maybe that’s a big deal, maybe it’s not. But it was out of character for Joel so we paid attention.
Doc didn’t do much to keep his name out of the headlines days later when he was asked about the team’s lackluster bench performance following a loss, the team’s third in a row, to the lowly Detroit Pistons. Rather than offer the type of non-answer Rivers has utilized masterfully for decades as a winning coach, he opted to talk (unprompted) about James Harden’s in game struggles instead. Some of that response may have been misconstrued by the media, but nonetheless, Rivers remained a focus.
All of that prompted us to write last week: “Sources have told Liberty Ballers in no uncertain terms that Daryl Morey strongly backs Rivers. When stuff swirls around like this, we keep that in mind. Nobody here is suggesting otherwise.”
And now we have more to unpack on the subject.
We get to the latest from Fischer, appearing on the “Please don’t aggregate this” call-in pod featuring Fischer and Christian Clark. And yes, we do fully appreciate the irony of aggregating this bit of intriguing intel.
Fischer was asked by a caller (who identified as “BallerSP,” a well known super fan on the “You Know Ball” Discord) if the Doc-to-LA-or-Utah rumors he reported are in any way indicative of the Sixers and Doc heading towards a potential offseason breakup.
“Look there’s two different teams that Doc has been linked to with the Lakers and Utah and I think the moment that James Harden got traded to Philadelphia there were whispers about the possibility of Daryl Morey potentially bringing on Mike D’Antoni to maximize Harden and Joel Embiid ....”
Fischer offers some intriguing intel about Mike D’Antoni’s name being one some think the Sixers could hire as a would-be replacement. It should be noted Morey did not hire Rivers in Philly, but he did strongly consider working with him in Houston, or at least recommended Doc to management before moving on himself. He’s expressed excitement to work with Doc in Philly as well, for whatever that’s worth.
But when Morey has talked in the past about things he likes most in coach, he’s mentioned stuff that kinda sorta sounds like it amounts to a creative, open-minded person who loves experimenting, and is somewhat open to weaving analytic recommendations into game plans and trades.
This type of stuff:
And now nearly two years in, it still doesn’t seem as if they bring out the absolute best in each other.
Fischer also gives some background. Fischer refers to the now infamous Doc post Game 7 reply regarding Ben Simmons championship pedigree as a point guard: “I don’t know the answer to that question:”
And regardless of how much truth you may feel there was behind Doc’s rather honest remarks, (indeed “BallerSP” told Fischer that Doc was correct) the incident certainly created major unwanted headaches for Daryl Morey.
The last thing a front office exec looks for in a head coach might be something like “willing to give the honest truth to the media even when it risks alienating a key player or makes life harder for the front office.”
“In the preseason, even then people were saying to me they wouldn’t be surprised if Daryl moved on from Doc kind of as like a mea culpa with Ben and as a way to show that they’re willing to help make it work and create an environment that would be more welcoming to Ben to come back... I think Philly, as they dropped a couple games in a row and the whole aspect of the late game substitutions and rotations, his overall kind of stubbornness in his rotations and whatnot there’s definitely a lot of talk that he could end up being, if the Sixers are one of the teams that don’t get to the Conference Finals, let alone to the Finals...I definitely think there’s a scenario where Doc is the scapegoat kind of, similar to how Frank Vogel has been is in L.A.”
Some really fascinating stuff and again the full pod is definitely worth a listen. Keep in mind, Fischer was the reporter who had basically all of the key intel about how James Harden became a 76er. He was way out in front of that one, even predicting Ben Simmons would ultimately become a Net on Jas Kang’s podcast.
Who wouldn’t have been surprised if the Sixers moved on from Doc to appease Simmons? Like rival execs or someone in Sixers camp?
If someone within the Sixers it could imply that Doc vs. Ben was perhaps a key reason things didn’t work out here with Simmons. Or at least that the team wondered at one point if it might help fix things. We can only imagine if Rich Paul said that was enough to satisfy Simmons to come back, it might have happened. But maybe that worked out for everyone in the end anyway as it played.
Still, it makes it feel as if Doc has already stood on shakier ground than many of us were aware.
The other part that Fischer mentions, that there’s been talk about Rivers’ overall stubbornness in his rotations, or late game substitutions, that’s arguably the most interesting part of all.
Because it implies when many of us were talking about Doc (when they “dropped a couple games” sure sounds like last week’s three-game losing streak) some people whose opinions might matter more were having similar conversations. That’s my read at least.
Whether that’s on the player side or executive level or neither, it seems as if they were left wanting on the way Doc steers his ship. And maybe fans are not alone when they wonder why we needed to see a mostly bench unit with neither Embiid nor Harden on the floor get smoked, or why Rivers seems to see a 2014 version of DeAndre Jordan.
Harden took issue with Brooklyn coach Steve Nash’s propensity to toggle in different closing units on a nightly basis. That same issue now looms large for the Sixers, as they struggle to find a fifth closer.
After reading and listening to Fischer, I’m thinking that if the Sixers lose in the first round of the upcoming playoffs, we’ll have seen the last of Doc Rivers in Philadelphia. And it might even be an amicable split. (You wouldn’t even need to scapegoat him, the verb Fischer used).
Is it possible these links to Utah and L.A. could even be coming from Doc’s camp? A response to recent criticism? Don’t think I don’t have options here.... Tea leaves everywhere.
A second round knock out may not be as definitive, but it’s starting to feel more likely by the day they’d make a change falling short of a final four.
Then again, maybe the Sixers make the NBA finals and all of this stuff starts to fade into thin air. It’s just highly unusual to hear this stuff as a team led by an MVP candidate keeps pushing for the Conference’s top seed.
-In case you missed it, Fischer joined us again more recently to talk all things Harden, including whispers about his upcoming free agency and if he might take less money to help the team pursue free agents. He also shared where he thinks Jalen Brunson will land next summer.