Doc Rivers was fired by the Clippers earlier this week after blowing a 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets. It was the third time in his long and accomplished coaching career he has blown a 3-1 playoff series lead.
Thursday, Rivers agreed to be the next head coach of a Sixers team that has a figurative 3-1 lead on most of the teams in the NBA. The Sixers are betting that Rivers won’t fail this time.
Many teams aren’t blessed with even one perennial All-Star on their roster. The Sixers are one of just a handful of teams who have two, in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Rivers has plenty of experience of coaching teams with multiple stars; he’s won 943 regular-season games, and won an NBA title with a Celtics team with two Hall of Famers – Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen – and Paul Pierce, who arguably should be in the Hall as well.
Rivers has plenty to do, and not much time to do it. But with all that awaits him in Philadelphia, there are a couple things that shouldn’t be on that list.
Every NBA fan knows that Simmons and Embiid are otherworldly talents. No one denies they are both approaching the peak years of their respective careers, and they both have very high ceilings. They also have one extremely important character flaw that is the main reason for their limitations on the court: Themselves.
Fans blamed Brett Brown for the team’s shortcomings in the postseason the last two seasons. While that’s fair, Brown did absolutely everything he could, both privately and through the media, to get the most out of the two jewels on his roster.
For all of Brown’s prodding, pushing and pleading, Simmons refused to show any semblance of a mid-range offensive game, which severely limits his potential, and that of the offense as a whole. And Brown made no secret of his wishes for Embiid to get and stay in game shape, both for his center’s health and for the good of the team. In the four seasons Embiid has played, he’s missed no fewer than 17 games.
A significant part of a head coach’s job is getting the most from the athletes with whom he is charged. The best ones are part drill sergeant, part psychiatrist, part loving and supporting parent, and part cheerleader. But leading a horse to water and getting that horse to drink are two very different things.
If Rivers is to truly get the Sixers to the Next Level, Simmons and Embiid must meet him halfway. The two stars of the team have to show the new boss that they are willing to do what it takes to elevate their respective games – and the franchise – and show Rivers and the team another example of growth: leadership.
Doc has enough patients to take care of without having to deal with two that can conceivably heal themselves.