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Those ‘looming Lakers’ are apparently still ‘something to watch’ regarding Doc Rivers’ future

Even after the Sixers said Doc will be back, it doesn’t sound like an open and shut case. Are LeBron James and the Lakers still in play here to land the Hall of Fame coach?

Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Four Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

A lot of fans are frustrated with Sixers head coach Doc Rivers. But after the second consecutive unceremonious second round exit, after most fans watched the Sixers ultimately fold lifelessly, (although not as bad as the Suns) in the final two games of that Miami series, after hearing players cite a combination of maturity, and mental toughness as plagues, it was pretty clear that the team was missing something vital.

We’re not talking about Joel Embiid’s health although that’s the most important reason they’re gone fishin’ now. But there was a lack of competitive spirit, a lack of fire. A few guys appeared to just throw their hands up and go through the motions. James Harden seemed to morph into some sinister Ben Simmons elimination game homolog, reluctant to grab the rock and jack up shots.

At times in Game 6, P.J. Tucker wanted loose balls and rebounds more than four other Sixers combined.

In instances like these, it’s common to see a head coach come under fire. So where do things stand now for Doc Rivers and the Sixers amid this bad energy exit?

NBA 2022 Playoffs - Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

In his own words, Doc said he thinks he does a terrific job and doesn’t worry about getting canned.

Then Rivers sat side by side with Morey during exit interviews last week, a bold declaration that Philadelphia continues to support their signal caller, now two seasons into his $40M five-year deal... at least publicly. We’ll get there.

So that’s it, Doc will be back next year..... right?

Silver Screen and Roll let out a sigh of relief:

The top reporters don’t seem 100 percent convinced this story is over and out just yet, do they? Here was how ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne spoke about the whole thing even after Morey’s comments:

Per Shelburne, last Friday, on “NBA Today:”

“Listen everyone I talk to in the league expects this to be one to watch. This is a situation that over the next couple weeks I think everybody will be watching very closely because [Malika Andrews] as you know there’s still two head coaching jobs that are open in the NBA the Charlotte Hornets and the Los Angeles Lakers. Doc rivers is under contract for three more years here in Philadelphia, that’s a lot of money that’s left on his deal, [Rivers] makes about $8M a year. So obviously Doc would wanna coach and wants all that money one way or another so Daryl is saying the right thing here. I thought it was good they had a united showing here but everyone around the league that I talk to said ‘let’s keep an eye on this one.”

Hmm... OK, so money is a key, they’re saying the right things, and making united showing but we should keep an eye on this. Got it.

What say you top ESPN Insider Adrian Wojnarowski?

Per Woj’s appearance on NBA Countdown (also after Morey’s public statements on Rivers) there may be some important meetings happening in Philly, perhaps happening as you read this:

“Here’s what you need to watch now in the next few days in Philadelphia. When Doc Rivers, Daryl Morey, Elton Brand and their front office, perhaps even ownership, when they start to sit down and talk about what is it gonna look like moving forward? What are the changes they have to make whether it’s personal style of play, are they all on the same page, do they all see the future are they aligned in that way? And I think that’s gonna be really important for Doc Rivers in Philadelphia. He’s got three years left on his deal about $8M a season, certainly a lot left on his contract. And listen the Lakers loom out there, they have slow played their coaching search [waiting to see if an established championship caliber coach becomes available]....”

Hmmm... OK, what is Woj not saying? He’s not saying “welp, Doc has a full off season and another year at least to make this work.” Like Ramona, Woj struck a few similar chords: we need to watch out for this one, Doc still is owed $24M bucks, the Lakers loom, plus he adds that these Sixers meetings may be important for Doc’s future. I’m torn between the watchful eyes emoji and the studious monocle emoji, maybe I’ll go for both here.

Not long after that TV spot from Woj, we got this from Yahoo and TNT’s Chris Haynes:

The timing, almost felt like a direct response (maybe from someone within the Sixers organization) looking to shoot down further intrigue on the matter, didn’t it?

(Although I’m not sure why the team would be terribly excited to doll out juicy scoops to Haynes after he basically suggested on national TV their franchise player was playing poorly because he was throwing an MVP tantrum and not because he was basically the bandaged SpongeBob meme on an NBA floor):

What is going to be discussed in these meetings that pertains to Doc’s future?

Is Woj leaving open the possibility that a disconnect that doesn’t currently exist might arise? Is it possible the solutions proposed to a certain problem won’t line up? Like how they might run the offense, for example? Like deciding to try empowering James Harden with more five out looks per game? More pick-and-roll between him and Embiid? Could the team find polite ways to say we want you to comport yourself differently in post games, as a representative of this organization? No more ornery, condescending stuff, no more criticizing players, etc.?

Would they hint that Morey’s front office will now have some say in the rotation card in order to avoid 2023 nightmare versions of Rivers maddening all-bench lineups, Ben Simmons-Dwight Howard lineups, or DeAndre Jordan lineups? Doc has said he recruited Georges Niang and Andre Drummond. Neither player was very useful by playoff time for their respective teams. Is it at all possible Doc could lose some power in roster or rotation decisions to bake in assurances they don’t repeat the most predictable mistakes he’s been prone to making over the last half decade or so?

In essence, is it at all possible the Sixers might have a vision that suddenly appeals a little bit less to Doc than it once did and then a “mutual parting of ways” is worth considering?

Shocked face emoji. Mind blown emoji. Let’s circle back to this.

What about those ever-looming Lakers?

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Seven Photo by Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst has put forth “if Doc Rivers becomes free, the Los Angeles Lakers will definitely have interest. They have a process, they have numerous candidates but he will immediately become a leading contender to get that laker job.”

L.A. Times Bill Plaschke had previously added: “I think the top choice is Doc Rivers. They want to bring Doc Rivers back to L.A., but I think if Doc wins...this second-round series against Miami, he’s not going to be available.”

Narrator voice: they didn’t win their series.

OK, so the Lakers are busy doing their loomings and lurkings, slow playing their search. Maybe if they’re the last team to hire, they could avoid all bidding wars and get a real bargain.

Over the weekend, here’s what Marc Stein wrote: via Substack:

“The Los Angeles Lakers continue to loom as an interested suitor should Rivers become available, but Morey is adamant — for now — that there will be no coaching change.…

“I just think he’s a great coach and I love working with him,” Morey said Friday at his season-ending news conference, with Rivers sitting right beside him at the interview dais.

That statement was certainly greeted with skepticism in various corners of the league, given the doubts that persist externally about the Morey/Rivers bond, but I know this much: I’d rather be in Doc’s shoes no matter what.

Rivers has three years left on his Philadelphia contract worth a reported $24 million, while league sources maintain that the Lakers’ coaching search has moved so slowly at least in part because they want to see if Rivers or another coach from the top tier (like Utah’s Quin Snyder) makes it to the open market this offseason. One suspects that, one way or another, Rivers is going to start next season with a good job.”

How about Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report? Fischer was after all, the first one to link Rivers to the Lakers (and Jazz) back in early April in the event Philly (or Doc) desired change:

From a recent episode of the “Please Don’t Aggregate this” pod, Fischer added this, recorded before the Sixers were eliminated:

“From what I’ve heard… I don’t think ownership is dying to make a change at the coaching position. People in and around the league talk all the time that Daryl Morey purportedly doesn’t value Doc that much, however, he was a candidate for the Rockets job before Daryl did leave, there’s a lot of money owed to Doc over the next three seasons. He’s got $8M average annual salary, three more years $24M….

On another appearance, Fischer added:

“But then again, could he be willing to go to the Sixers and walk away from that money and get something a little bit less from the Lakers in order to have that lifestyle that people around the league say he does prefer? Certainly possible.”

So every top reporter who mentions this subject talks about the Sixers ongoing financial obligation to Rivers. Several (Fischer and Stein) have pointed out skepticism regarding the Daryl-Doc fit, and we’ve heard phrases they’re “saying the right things,” posting a “united front,” offering a “company line,” making a “public move,” all “to show that Doc is the guy at least in the interim here.”

So nothing feels definitive if you listen too all the scuttlebutt.

The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement has terms that say the Sixers are on the hook for the money they owe... unless basically he gets hired somewhere else. In that case, they could fork over the difference assuming nobody met his current salary. If the Lakers (whispers are they’re not too terribly flush) could only offer say $5M per year for three years, then Philly would need to pay the difference: $24M-$15M= $9M.

Is there a world where the Sixers don’t all see eye to eye on the team’s future? Might Joel Embiid or James Harden have a strong preference? What if Doc could get most if not all of what he’s currently owed to relocate back to L.A., where he’d have LeBron James and Anthony Davis, if not Russell Westbrook, where he is rumored to love the lifestyle, where he wouldn’t have to deal with the local Philly media and their tough questions about his rotations. What if the Sixers owners could even wind up saving a bit of cash, while finally allowing Morey to hire his own coach? What if the Lakers could get a sizable discount on a future Hall of Fame coach?

I don’t know any of these answers. They all seem pretty farfetched right now. All we know is that the Sixers themselves have shot down any and all whispers of a potential Rivers departure, reinforcing that Daryl Morey, Elton Brand and Doc are in fact aligned already. Daryl’s succinct “yes” basically banged the gavel on that.

But I’m guessing questions like these, scenarios where all parties might have an incentive to at least explore change are why the top reporters haven’t taken Philly’s own words as gospel just yet.

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