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Doc Rivers quips Harden got him fired, talks Maxey’s upside in annoying media blitz

Doc Rivers is gone from the Sixers but with his new ESPN gig, we’re going to be hearing from him a lot. Here he weighs in on James Harden’s role in him getting fired and Tyrese Maxey’s potential ascendance if they can trade Harden for the right price.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been so long since I got to rip Doc Rivers, I forgot about this feeling. Ready, let’s get into it.

Doc Rivers is no longer the Sixers head coach (yay) but he’s still in the news because he’s now a broadcaster for ESPN (eye roll).

Time hop: the buzzwords surrounding the Sixers coaching search back in 2020 were “accountability” and “adjustments.” So naturally, Josh Harris, David Blitzer, and perhaps names like Michael Rubin, Elton Brand, and Alex Rucker put their heads together and giddily signed Doc Rivers, the future-Hall-of-Fame-Coach who’d literally just been fired by the Clippers mostly because of his...well...his notorious lack of accountability and playoff adjustments, lol.

Amazingly, Rivers got a whopping five-year $40M deal from team ownership. And stunningly, both issues continued to plague the Sixers during the last three years of Joel Embiid’s prime. Who could’ve seen it coming?

We do know Josh Harris apparently loves analytics.

So he had to have a coach with a great track record there, or something?

Shhh, nobody tell Commander fans!

We’re finally, mercilessly past the uncreative, pass-the-buck Doc era, as Daryl Morey finally canned Rivers and hired 2019 title-winner Nick Nurse who represents a major, major upgrade in terms of game strategy. (His teams even practice cool stuff!)

But unfortunately, ESPN fired Jeff Van Gundy and hired Doc and now we’re apparently going to be hearing from him... like a lot. And he’s often asked about our favorite team. Sigh.

Doc on Harden

Earlier in the offseason, Rivers claimed his relationship with James Harden was “neutral.”

But on a recent appearance on The Dan Patrick Show, he quipped that it was James Harden who may have contributed to his ousting:

Here’s more context. First Doc takes some credit for finally getting Harden to “play right” then makes his joking-but-not-joking quip about Harden getting him canned:

Rivers: “He when playing right, and I tell everyone, go back to the first half of last year where he gave himself to the team, Dan, we were the best team in the NBA for a ten-twenty game stretch, obviously we have Joel [Embiid] and Tyrese [Maxey], and Tobias [Harris] but we were because James was being a point guard. You know its funny, a coach called me and said ‘I never thought anybody could get him to do that.’ And he did, for a short term... if you can keep him in that, and not want to chase numbers or wanting to score, the thirst of scoring, then you have a terrific player.

Patrick: Yeah, but what changed though, Doc? He was playing perfectly I thought for you guys?

Rivers: Yeah, he really was. I would say not making the All-Star team really bothered him. He would never say this but in my gut I thought he changed almost immediately. Member about a game or two after that he called me and said ‘hey I want to start playing with the second unit more.’ And I knew exactly what that means.

Patrick: more shots.

Rivers: More shots, I want to go back to attacking and playing. And you know, we had our ups and downs from that point on. What’s funny about our relationship, it was an honest one. I’ll tell ya that. It’s probably why I’m doing TV right now.

(Both laugh).”

Nevermind the subtle shots at Harden being thirsty to score, or Doc forgetting that Harden has played selflessly alongside Kevin Durant at two different stages in his career, and had already led the NBA in dimes back in 2017, nevermind that it was more difficult for teams to stop the Sixers when Harden wasn’t simply a point guard, but powering a 1-2-3 punch between himself, Maxey, and Joel ...Let me just say this: if there’s even a modicum of truth to that TV part, that Doc could still be coaching the 76ers if not for Harden’s influence (Ramona Shelburne once reported “the Harden-Doc Rivers thing was never great”) then maybe the Sixers should have paid Harden a max just for helping them rip off the Band-Aid they couldn’t!

I don’t believe that was really the case though, to be honest. I think that’s probably just Doc rationalizing a little, finding a scapegoat for his firing.

Clearly, the Sixers weren’t sold on the idea of Harden being around for the long haul anyway. So why give him that much influence? There were members of the Sixers org. who still believed, when Nurse was hired, that Harden was going to sign with Houston for Pete’s sake!

Plus, it sounds like a handful of key Sixers aren’t actually too upset with the coaching change either.

Harden may not have been the key player seeking a new voice

Shelburne noted, earlier this summer, regarding Embiid watching the NBA Finals: “I think there might be a pining for [Denver’s selfless, cut-heavy] style of play. I think Embiid looks at that and goes we should play that way. This is a great way of playing. It’s not incumbent on just two guys….”

The current Sixers don’t sound like they’re exactly crushed Rivers is on TV now either, so maybe it wasn’t all Harden’s doing....

Paul Reed:

“This is kinda new for me,” Reed said after a practice. “Last season, if I was taking 3s, I probably wouldn’t have played for like 10 games. This year, it’s like they want me to shoot the ball more so I’m still making that adjustment and just realizing where my shots are gonna come within the offense. Just getting used to that.”

Jaden Springer was asked about Nick Nurse back on Media day:

“He came on strong. I can tell he’s a coach he really wants to help the players learn and want to teach and then he stopped the drills, stepping in, and give us points in what to do here and there, like it’s great. I haven’t seen that too much since I’ve been in the league, but that’s been very special to me.”

As Jackson Frank recently reported:

“P.J. Tucker, who briefly played for the Toronto Raptors in 2016-17 when Nurse was an assistant, praised him for employing systems that fit the personnel rather than shoehorning personnel into a rigid system.....Philadelphia’s schematic identity will not be what it was under Doc Rivers. An egalitarian offense and aggressive defense are slated to replace a centralized offense and conservative defense. Those changes may not generate better end results. But for now, the Sixers sound rejuvenated about everything Nurse is instilling, both in his tactics and personality.”

And Danuel House Jr. had this to add:

“I can tell you the difference now. No, It was just a lot more more selfless basketball, it’s not so much so much of two guys having a ball, doc’s two guys, ball dominant, Nick Nurses, everybody played together. Everybody works with each other. He’ll cut to get your brother an open shot. So you can see the difference night and day.”

The team wasn’t asked about Doc specifically for those comments, but it’s hard not to read all kinds of subtweets putting down Doc’s vanilla, stationary, #JustFeedEmbiid schemes and lack of dedication to player development that Springer and Reed alluded to. What if Doc had played Isaiah Joe more, would it have saved Morey from that silly blunder of letting Joe simply walk to hold an empty roster spot Dewayne Dedmon would later fill?

Doc on Tyrese Maxey’s ascendance

Next, Rivers got the chance to weigh in on Tyrese Maxey on The Bill Simmons pod and this part is much easier to digest:

Rivers: “Maxey is ready Bill, he is ready.”

Simmons: “Okay.”

Rivers: “Sam Cassell said it all last year to me, he’s ready now but we got two guys [Harden and Embiid]. So I believe that. So I do think if they make the right trade and allow Maxey to be Maxey, he’s ready and that makes them a really good team.... listen they’re gonna get to the second round and then if healthy, they got Joel Embiid. My three years there, you knew you were gonna get there, unfortunately Jo was never healthy but if healthy, and no other stuff, you know if you know what I mean. If James is there and in, or James is gone, then you have a shot. But if you have the saga going on plus not health, you have no chance.”

Doc had to sneak in that Embiid was never healthy during the second round he was there. It’s true, but it’s classic Doc to gently remind us how well he did under such trying circumstances (rolls eyes). I love that we still get all of these Docisms on a regular basis, barf.

How long until he reminds us on an ESPN broadcast he took a team that got swept in the first round to a one-seed a year later?

So Doc is gone, but he’s still coming up with self-serving narratives that pass the buck a bit.

I would tell myself to just get over it, but I can’t help but listen to how excited the Sixers sound with all of the ball movement in practice and wonder how things might have played if they’d had a better, more creative coach over the last three years of Joel Embiid’s prime.

Anyway, the stuff Doc said about Harden makes me squint, and the Maxey stuff is pretty cool. And the Sixers sound very, very excited about Coach Nurse.

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