Doc Rivers often talked about the reasons for him taking the Sixers job three years ago. Of course Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were a big part of it, but he also talked about how great winning in a city like Philadelphia would be.
Conversely, if you don’t win in Philly, you often don’t get to stick around very long.
Now, the attention shifts to who will be the 25th coach in franchise history.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported a list of six candidates for the role: Mike Budenholzer, Sam Cassell, Mike D’Antoni, Nick Nurse, Frank Vogel and Monty Williams. It’s an intriguing list, with Cassell being the only one that isn’t an established head coach. Three of them have won a title and Williams got to the Finals with the Suns just two years ago. Our Dave Early ranked all the prospective candidates.
The Sixers will not be the only team vying to hire one of these coaches. The Bucks, Suns, Raptors and Pistons are all in the market.
You might ask yourself: why in the hell would any of these guys want to take over this team? Well, despite everything, the Sixers job should still be one of the most attractive ones in the NBA.
Yes, we all watched Game 7. To call it a disaster would be kind to the Sixers and perhaps an insult to disasters. And there’s not much you can blame on coaching. Yes, Rivers has his shortcomings — we saw all of them over and over again — but that game featured a no-show from the Sixers’ stars. Joel Embiid and James Harden sleepwalked as Jayson Tatum and the Celtics sent them packing in embarrassing fashion. Any comments about Rivers “not having his team ready” are silly. If you as an NBA player can’t get yourself “ready” for a Game 7, you might be in the wrong business.
With how ugly the ending was, it’s easy to forget that the Sixers were a few minutes away from punching their ticket to the conference finals in Game 6. They were up 83-81 with 5:25 left before their offense cratered, not scoring a field goal until there were just 22.5 seconds left. That’s not to say the Sixers were unlucky or that they were the better team, but they were this close to doing something they haven’t done in over two decades against likely the best team left standing.
Harden’s likely opt-out leaves the roster situation murky. As our Bryan Toporek outlined, Harden’s decision will shape the Sixers’ offseason. If he re-signs, they won’t have much wiggle room left to fill out the roster with several pending free agents of their own. If he walks, the Sixers don’t simply get to use that cap space. They would be severely limited with how they’d go about replacing him.
With all that said, they have the reigning MVP. Despite a brutal Game 7, Embiid is still one of the best two-way players in the world. Surely a head coach looking for a job wouldn’t mind having that as a foundation. Being the one that gets through to him after all these years would be a major highlight on their resume. They also have Tyrese Maxey, who is very much still ascending at 22 and has flashed All-Star potential. Maxey is going to work and is always lauded for being coachable. He’s the exact type of young player any coach would want.
And the depth on this roster was the best it’s maybe ever been in the Embiid era.
Even though there is uncertainty with roster construction, you at least know you have a front office that is serious about winning. Say what you want about Daryl Morey, but he’s proven to be one of the most creative executives in the NBA. He was aggressive in signing veteran P.J. Tucker and pulled off a draft-night trade for De’Anthony Melton, two moves that helped the team despite it coming up short.
And while the dynamic of Josh Harris owning the New Jersey Devils and now the Washington Commanders is super weird, give him and the ownership group credit — they moved on from a coach in Rivers that still had two years remaining on his contract. That means they’ll be paying Doc and the new head coach moving forward. That’s not a move you make unless you care about winning.
And imagine winning in Philadelphia. The Eagles’ Super Bowl victory in 2018 feels like a lifetime ago. The last time the Sixers won it all, many folks reading this likely weren’t born (the person writing this wasn’t). That’s why Rivers took on this job three years ago. It’s still a destination because the fans care. That’s why Sixers Twitter has been a hell scape over the last 72 hours — there’s genuine pain from that passion.
There’s work to do here, but like the other teams with a vacancy, there’s a reason the head coach was fired. The Sixers are far from perfect and might not be a great coach away from winning a title. As we saw Sunday, these players have some serious soul searching to do.
But if you’re the guy that can take this talent and make it a winning team in the city of Philadelphia, you’ll be a god. That feels like a job worth taking.