Brett Brown experienced a lifetime of chaos during his seven years as Sixers head coach.
If Doc Rivers’ tenure is at all comparable, it's helpful that he's at least navigated unpredictable, bumpy terrain before.
As a first-time NBA head coach, Brown was in Philadelphia for a cursed stretch of rookie injuries, the Bryan Colangelo Burnergate scandal and Markelle Fultz’s mystifying jump shot. Every week it seemed there was a new major injury, new source of unwanted drama, or a new player to insert into his rotation. It’s been a weird decade for the Sixers, and Brown rarely had the stability or health he would’ve liked.
“This season, to me, was riddled with an amazing abundance of injuries,” he said on Aug. 23 after the Celtics’ first-round sweep of the Sixers. “I think this season was a challenge trying to put people where they should’ve been placed. … In general, ending with (Ben Simmons’) injury this year, you just really never felt like you jumped into a routine and a rhythm. That’s probably the thought that will linger the most.”
Rivers in May said to TNT’s Ernie Johnson that he nearly quit about a month into his stint as Clippers head coach. Owner Donald Sterling, Rivers was told, wanted to kill the signing of JJ Redick because he “doesn’t like white players.” Rivers almost resigned and, though Sterling ultimately changed his mind on Redick, he “knew that minute we were in trouble.”
Sterling was banned from the NBA for life during the playoffs that season after recordings leaked of him making racist comments. While the league investigated and decided on the punishment for Sterling — an owner with a long history of racism — Rivers’ players contemplated whether or not to keep playing.
"It was hell," Rivers told Logan Murdock for an NBC Sports Bay Area story last year. “It was the worst thing I've ever gone through in my 20 years as coach. I felt like the entire organization and franchise had been let down. I thought we were a joke.
"It was embarrassing for anybody who had to wear that logo. So it was my job, unfortunately, to try and put things back together in 16 hours. It should have taken us out of that series."
Six years later, Rivers was an influential voice as NBA players discussed the best course of action during this season's playoffs following the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and is now paralyzed.
The night before players decided to strike, Rivers gave an emotional monologue on police violence and racism in America.
Rivers told reporters that former Clipper and current NBPA president Chris Paul “used me as a sounding board” in closed-door meetings. The playoffs resumed after the NBA and NBPA made three commitments in pursuit of social justice and racial equality.
There’s much more to Rivers’ coaching history than strikes and near-strikes — successful culture-building; tensions with superstars; blown playoff leads; lifelong relationships; alluring potential not realized. Like anyone who’s coached in 21 NBA seasons, he’s had mixed results. And, like every NBA coach, he’ll be reliant on his players and front office. His hiring answers one question, but there’s still little certainty about the Sixers organization.
Whatever’s next — and however difficult, head-scratching or bizarre it is — Rivers’ track record shows he’ll have an idea of how to handle it.