Three days. That’s all the time it took for Doc Rivers to be fired by the Clippers after squandering a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals and be hired in Philly to help turn some expensive crumbs back into a cake.
For some reason, I can hear Marc Zumoff’s voice echoing the phrase "turning garbage into gold." But I’m still trying to determine if the “garbage” is the coach with a 3-8 record in series-clinching playoff games or the underperforming, ill-fitting Sixers roster.
Is Rivers the right coach for the Sixers or not? Truthfully, we won’t know the answer to that question for some time. Largely because regular-season success doesn’t amount to much when it comes to playoff glory. Brett Brown won 51 games or more with the Sixers twice and never made it past the second round.
I’ve believed throughout the entire coaching search that the Sixers needed to hire someone who had deep playoff experience and a person that was used to dealing firsthand with the egos of NBA stars. The Sixers succeeded in the latter, but the former is something Rivers has failed at over the last 10 years of his coaching career. He has gone past the second round only once in that span, with the Celtics in 2012.
In fact, how’s this for a statistical showstopper: Rivers and Brown both coached seven years at their previous stops (L.A. and Philly) and have a nearly identical playoff win percentage. Brown sits at .462 with Rivers trailing him at .458. Maybe the Sixers' brass just really likes shiny things. Rivers was that for them because he leapfrogged every possible candidate and quickly jumped to the front of the line.
And who were the candidates in that proverbial line? Based on reports, Tyronn Lue, Mike D’Antoni and briefly Billy Donovan (before he took the Bulls job) were all in the running. Three out of those four coaches were leading other teams at season’s end. If you let go of Brown after a first-round sweep, there had to be people the Sixers thought highly of that weren’t current head coaches at the time of Brown’s ouster. Who were they? Why weren’t those people interviewed?
If they did have a list of possible candidates, they didn’t think that much of them because the freshly-fired coaches all got top billing. No other coaches were reported to have been interviewed, not even one of the NBA’s highest-paid assistants and an in-house up-and-comer Ime Udoka. I wonder if he even wanted the job and that’s why we never heard about him getting an interview.
Next week, the Sixers are expected to hold an introductory press conference, most likely mentioning how they got the best candidate following an in-depth search. It seems to me the depth of their search was as shallow as a sandbar.
Admittedly, Rivers is a tremendous upgrade in experience and pedigree over Brown. He coached the Celtics to an NBA championship. He played nearly 15 seasons in the NBA and has helped his son to a 10-year career. He is an ambassador for the league and by all accounts an A1 human being. No one is taking that from him.
But, similar to Brown, there is a separation that needs to happen between the actual person and his coaching acumen. And in Rivers' case, it’s not exactly coaching acumen, but more so coaching success.
The Sixers' coaching search lasted a little over a month. They could have the highest payroll in basketball next season. This is a franchise that has made it past the second round only once in the last 35 years. The time for likable, charismatic and thought-provoking bench bosses is over. The Sixers need a coach to deliver playoff wins and a postseason boom that literally hasn’t happened in decades.
Rivers' reported five-year deal gives him plenty of time to find the promised land; I’m not sure Sixers fans can wait that long.