The case for and against Doc Rivers as Sixers head coach


For the first time since 2013, the Sixers are searching for a new head coach.

With the team deciding to move on from Brett Brown, we’re continuing our series analyzing candidates to replace Brown with Doc Rivers. The Clippers and Rivers parted ways on Monday night, and The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears reported that the Sixers and Pelicans reached out to Rivers shortly after.

Mike D’Antoni and Tyronn Lue are among the other coaches we’ve looked at so far.

The case for Rivers

Rivers has spent 34 seasons in the NBA — 13 as a player, 21 as a coach. His name is immediately recognizable, and he’s earned respect both for how he treats people and what he’s accomplished. Rivers’ raspy voice carries across a room and you’re compelled to listen. The raw numbers are impressive, too — a 943-681 record, 16 playoff appearances and an NBA title with the 2008 Celtics.

He’s coached a cast of stars ranging from Tracy McGrady to Kevin Garnett to Chris Paul. While Rivers’ message hasn’t always resonated, he knows from experience the challenges of balancing personalities, searching for compatibility and trying to coax the best out of elite players. It would be fascinating to see how he’d go about forming relationships with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

Though there’s no direct parallel in Rivers’ coaching past to Simmons or Embiid, one imagines the on-court task wouldn’t be hopelessly beyond him as long as the roster around the Sixers’ two All-Stars fits better than it did this past season. Rivers has coached creative playmakers like Rajon Rondo and Paul, exceptional athletes like Blake Griffin and rim protectors like DeAndre Jordan. This will almost certainly be a very difficult position but, at a bare minimum, Rivers should have a clue or two. Perhaps an approximation of something that worked for him before could click here.

One of Rivers’ many pre-existing relationships definitely doesn’t hurt his case for the Sixers job. Tobias Harris was excellent in 87 games with Rivers before being traded to the Sixers last February, averaging 20.3 points and 7.2 rebounds and shooting 42.6 percent from three-point range. Could he return to that level with a coach he already knows well? Rivers is certainly a fan.

“He was great,” Rivers said of Harris when the Clippers visited Philadelphia in February. “The basketball we know, but he’s one of those sunshine guys. He’s just a great guy. He really is a fantastic guy to have around. There’s never a darkness when you’re around him. It’s just light. He’s extremely coachable. He’s a good one, for sure.”

As the Sixers keep pondering how exactly they’re going to change their front office, Rivers’ executive experience might be intriguing. He has a mixed executive track record, eventually losing the president of basketball operations title in 2017, but could perhaps be a helpful advisor on personnel matters to general manager Elton Brand, who admitted last month he had to learn important skills on the job after being promoted two years ago.

The case against Rivers 

The way this season with the Clippers ended has to be reason for concern. Los Angeles threw away a 3-1 lead against the Nuggets in the second round of the playoffs, blew multiple double-digit leads in the process and didn’t play with the energy or urgency you expect from a team on the verge of a first conference finals appearance in franchise history.

The additions of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were tremendous from a talent standpoint, but the Clippers never meshed effectively. A January story in The Athletic detailed issues integrating the team’s new stars, who reportedly received “preferential treatment.” Much like the Sixers, the Clippers’ belief that they were built for the playoffs seemed to backfire as they failed to suddenly flip whatever switch would’ve allowed them to win one of those three closeout games vs. the Nuggets.

One playoff disappointment shouldn’t define Rivers, but it is fair to mention that he lost three times in the first round and three times in the second with the Clippers. Paul, Griffin and Lob City didn't deliver on their promise either.