In a slightly different world, Elton Brand and the Sixers might never have hired Doc Rivers. Daryl Morey and the Rockets might’ve snagged him instead.
“My goal is to win a championship so whatever gets us there is what we’ll do,” Morey said Monday at the press conference introducing him as the Sixers’ new president of basketball operations. “But I would say to have two star-plus players at 24 and 26 years old, that is why I couldn’t get Doc Rivers to come interview in Houston, because he saw this roster and he said, ‘It’s amazing, and sorry I didn’t come fly to Houston to meet with you, Daryl.’ And obviously I then end up here a couple weeks later. It was pretty cool.”
It’s telling that Rivers found the chance to coach a team that got swept in the first round of the playoffs — albeit with Ben Simmons sidelined — more appealing than the thought of coaching a team that won a playoff round and has a historically prolific scorer in James Harden.
There are clear flaws with the Sixers’ roster, though Morey wanted more time on the job before outlining exactly what needs to be fixed.
“For me to come in and act like I know exactly what the Sixers need to do on Day 1 would not be very smart decision-making,” he said.
Still, the Sixers were 21st in three-point attempt frequency and 22nd in free throw attempt rate. They lack players who can easily create their own shots and are set to pay the luxury tax after giving lucrative deals to Tobias Harris and Al Horford. This roster was so attractive that Rivers didn’t give serious thought as to whether the Rockets gig might be preferable?
The presence of Simmons and Joel Embiid, whom Morey glowed about on Monday, is why the answer to that question was a firm, “Yes.”
“I think they absolutely can work together,” Morey said of Simmons and Embiid. “But Doc’s been here a little longer than me, I’ll turn to him. He’s thought even longer about how they can work together.”
“Yeah, I have no doubt they can,” Rivers said. “Again, I haven’t been in the lab with them yet, but I know they can. I think we have to change the narrative. They haven’t won yet, not they can’t win. The ‘can’t’ should be taken out. But there’s a lot of combinations of players around the league that haven’t won yet. … I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”
Two playoff appearances with both Simmons and Embiid available is indeed very flimsy evidence for the claim that Simmons and Embiid can’t win together. The Sixers still have two relatively young stars under contract through the 2022-23 season.
The problems with the team around them are real, though one disappointing, injury-filled, pandemic-shortened season evidently wasn’t enough to discourage Morey or Rivers, who first crossed paths when Morey was SVP Operations for the Celtics.
Having worked under ownership that was largely reluctant to pay the luxury tax in Houston, Morey is familiar with suboptimal financial circumstances. At the 2019 trade deadline, for instance, he sent James Ennis to the Sixers for the right to swap 2021 second-round picks to help Houston get under the luxury tax. The long-term contracts for Harris and Horford are obviously not ideal, but Morey at least seems confident that managing partner Josh Harris will pay whatever is necessary.
“Well, I think you heard from Josh to start, how committed they are to make this a championship organization,” he said. “The fact that they went out and got Doc, who I think is one of the premier, if not the premier coach, in the NBA. I saw firsthand him putting together a team that won a title in Boston. There aren’t many opportunities where you get a chance to win and I really felt this was the right fit.”
Rivers is on the same page — and he got there first.