Exactly a week after parting ways with the Clippers, Doc Rivers was at the Sixers’ practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, on Monday to be introduced as the team’s new coach.
Here are four things we learned from his virtual press conference with general manager Elton Brand:
Rivers believes in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. He seems confident he can work out all the tricky details about how to maximize the Sixers’ two All-Stars once he acclimates to the job.
“(Simmons and Embiid) have won 65 percent of the games that they’ve played in,” he said. “It clearly works when they play together. If you’ve watched my teams, I rarely say that a guy is a 1, a 2 — I don’t get lost in the minutiae. I don’t get lost in what position guys play. I look at how many points we score as a team. I don’t care how we score. My teams have always been very good offensively, in the top five overall. And we score points, and we score points in a lot of different ways.
“We’ve got Ben that scores points, we have Joel, we have Tobias (Harris), we have Shake (Milton), we have Josh (Richardson). This team’s loaded with talent and we’ve just gotta figure out how to make it work the best. But just looking at the numbers, when those two play together they win 65 percent of the games that they play in. That’s a good thing.”
Ten All-Stars have played for Rivers in his 21 seasons as an NBA head coach.
Who’s going to make personnel decisions?
We still have little clarity about the “thorough assessment” of the Sixers’ front office Brand said he’d be conducting.
However, Rivers expects to be influential on personnel decisions. The Clippers’ president of basketball operations from 2013 to 2017, he has more executive experience than Brand, who’s been the Sixers’ GM for two years and acknowledged in August he “didn’t know a lot” when he first accepted the position.
“We’ll work together,” Rivers said. “That’s one of the things that was so exciting about this job, to have that opportunity with Elton. I think we have a chance to build something great here, not just on the court. I actually think it starts off the court. ... That’s exciting. I think Elton and I will have a chance to form an amazing partnership together, and we’ll grow from there.”
Rivers didn’t agree with the notion that the Sixers’ massive roster is incapable of coping in the modern game.
“I think you have to be who you are,” he said. “The Lakers weren’t worried about going small; they actually went bigger. I think the mistake a lot of teams have made is everybody wanting to be Golden State but no one can shoot like Golden State, so to me everyone made a mistake. You have to be the best version of you and not apologize for that.
“This team has great size, great athleticism, great multi-positional players. I think that is new. I think that is the new way. I think what I do like, again from afar, is this team has the ability to morph into three or four different lineups that can create problems for other teams. And that’s something we will definitely do here.”
He also mentioned that he intends to bring in a new coaching staff to help him figure out how to work around the Sixers’ flaws. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that former Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry is a “serious possibility” to join Rivers’ staff.
The Sixers’ 110-103 win over the Clippers on Feb. 11 was one of the most impressive games Simmons and Embiid played together this season. Simmons had a 26-point triple-double, Embiid posted 26 points and nine rebounds and the two looked comfortable teaming up on high-lows and snug pick-and-rolls.
The other Sixers-Clippers game this year is likely best known in the Philadelphia area as The Shake Milton Game. Milton dunked on Patrick Beverley, tied an NBA record for consecutive made three-pointers (13 across three games) and scored a career-high 39 points on national television. With Simmons and Embiid sidelined by injuries and Josh Richardson exiting early in the second quarter after sustaining a concussion, Milton kept the Sixers competitive and had casual fans searching for information on everything from his nickname to his G League background.
Rivers hasn’t forgotten that afternoon. He said he spoke on the phone Sunday night with Milton and rookie Matisse Thybulle, and he heaped praise on both young players.
“Let’s start with Matisse: He is an NBA All-Defensive player now,” Rivers said. “He has a chance right now to make a difference defensively. Offensively will be his next step, and we’ll work on that. The only thing I told Shake is if he can play like he played against us in L.A., then I don’t need to say another word to him.
"He was phenomenal in that game. … I just remember Shake almost single-handedly beating us, and from that point on he took off. I just love that he’s not scared to take the shot. I love players like that, and I think he’ll do well under me.”
A whirlwind week
Rivers had hardly any time to reflect on the conclusion of his seven-year stint with the Clippers.
He said three teams called his agent, Lonnie Cooper, within five hours of the news breaking that he was a free agent. This opportunity with the Sixers, in his mind, was too attractive to pass up.
“… I love coaching,” Rivers said. “I absolutely love it. But I was not going to just coach anybody, I will tell you that. I was ready to take a break. It just depended on the team that was available, and if I thought that team, in my opinion, was ready to win. That excited me.
"When Elton called, it was easy (to) get on a plane and take a look, for me. When you look at these players, these young players and their potential, the fact that they’ve had so much success at the ages that they are already — and where I believe they can go — for me it’s a job you just couldn’t turn down. That’s why I’m here. Just really excited about it.”