Former Sixers head coach Doc Rivers appears to be loving his funemployment from coaching. So much so that he went back on the Bill Simmons Podcast and threw a few not-so-subtle digs at team president Daryl Morey.
When Simmons asked Rivers how trade rumors can affect team chemistry, he quickly pointed the blame for his coaching struggles at Morey for that reason.
“One of the problems—probably had many—but one of the problems I had with Daryl was that he talked too much,” Rivers said. “So, from a coaching standpoint—and I got this from guys in Houston when he came, they said, ‘You’ve gotta get him to talk less.’ Because trying to coach a team every day, and your guys are mentioned every day in trades, and then here comes the coach. ‘Hey, I want you to play a lesser role, or I want you to do this.’ And he’s like, ‘Why? You guys talk about me every day about being traded. I’m not buying in.’ It makes it hard.”
Rivers is right in that the weeks leading up to the trade deadline are stressful for plenty of players around the league. They’ve admitted as much both before and after the fact. There’s no denying that it might impact team morale and chemistry around that time of year.
During his time with the Sixers, Rivers didn’t just deal with lack of buy-in leading up to the trade deadline. If anything, the problem arose more in the playoffs, when their offense would repeatedly grind to a halt and they had no better answer than a Joel Embiid mid-range jumper or a James Harden step-back three. During late-game, high-leverage situations, their offense often reverted to hero ball in the absence of any creative sets designed to generate easy shot opportunities.
Even though this year’s Sixers are currently in a rough patch, the dichotomy between Rivers and Nick Nurse has been on full display throughout the season. The amount of off-ball movement, offensive rebounding and transition play has been night-and-day from last year, all three of which are significantly positive changes. Nurse entered the year pledging to make the Sixers more unpredictable, and lo and behold, Tyrese Maxey is now on the verge of his first All-Star nod and Joel Embiid is smashing his previous career high in assists.
That isn’t to say Nurse’s honeymoon is guaranteed to last. (The shine already may be starting to wear off in recent weeks.) But seeing the Sixers under Nurse compared to Rivers is like watching the difference between a JV and a varsity team. Sure, they’re both playing the same sport, but one’s far better than the other.
Ironically, the Sixers are doing this despite being engulfed in trade rumors over the past six months. The Harden situation could have derailed them before their season even began, but Nurse set the tone early by telling players to focus only on what they could control. He’s echoing that message ahead of the trade deadline, too.
“I think it’s always difficult and I think that you really just got to zero in day to day with them and try to get them to try to quiet some of that stuff,” Nurse told reporters recently (h/t Ky Carlin of Sixers Wire). “Like once you get in here, man, you gotta focus. Like here’s your chance, you know, you’re on the court and you’re going to get better. You’re trying to figure things out.”
“It’s not that easy, because I think that people talk about us as being a team that could — we’ve got assets, we’ve got expiring contracts, we’ve got — we’ll be talking,” Nurse added. “It’s not like it’s not out there every single day that this team’s gonna be making some moves and that can’t be easy for anybody. You imagine if we were all sitting around wondering if we were gonna be packing up our stuff any day now, right?”
As PHLY’s Kyle Neubeck pointed out, this particular criticism coming from Rivers is especially hilarious given some of his own faux pas during his time with the Sixers.
When you help trigger a player’s trade request by throwing him under the bus minutes after a season of gaslighting the public blew up in your face, I feel like you might want to refrain from saying the subsequent clean up job required too much talking https://t.co/IQB2vuEid7— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) January 10, 2024
Meanwhile, Rivers was seemingly caught in one of his own lies Tuesday. He claimed Maxey was the one who approached him about coming off the bench following his return from a foot injury last season, but Maxey shot that down during a recent podcast appearance.
“For me, I was hurt, I was upset about it, but I’m like, ‘You know what? I’ve gotta be a professional in this situation,” Maxey said after confirming that he wasn’t the one who suggested coming off the bench.
It’s time for all bitter parties from last season’s team to move on. Embiid is playing at an MVP level again—if he meets the 65-game requirement, that is. Harden’s Los Angeles Clippers have been one of the NBA’s hottest teams in recent weeks and look like a legitimate contender in the West, health permitting. And Rivers is collecting $16 million from the Sixers over the next two years not to coach an NBA team. Everyone came out a winner.
With that said, Daryl: Don’t listen to Doc. Please slop us up soon.