Ex-Sixers Coach Doc Rivers Explains How ‘Challenging’ James Harden Was

Doc Rivers, James Harden

Getty James Harden and Doc Rivers of the Philadelphia 76ers

After the Philadelphia 76ers were eliminated by the Boston Celtics on May 14, it only took the Sixers two days to fire head coach Doc Rivers. On the June 13 episode of “The Bill Simmons Podcast,” Rivers talked about his time with the Sixers, including the difficulty of coaching James Harden.

“It was challenging. More because we were fighting two things, and not like visually fighting. James was so good at playing one way, and the way I believe you have to play to win, in some ways, is different because it’s a lot of giving up the ball, moving the ball, and coming back to the ball,” Rivers told Simmons.

Rivers then detailed the challenge of coaching Harden, adding that things changed for the worse as the season went on because of him.

“At times, to get him to move and play the way I needed him to play [was challenging]. I thought the first half of the year we were the best team in the game. I thought James was playing perfect basketball. He was a point guard of the team. He was still scoring, but he was doing more playmaking and scoring. And then the second half, he started scoring more, and I thought we got more stagnant at times.”

James Harden Was ‘Driving Force’ Behind Doc Rivers’ Firing

Two days after Rivers was fired, Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports reported that it was, in fact, Harden who pushed the Sixers to fire Rivers as head coach.

“Several members of Rivers’ staff, sources said, have pointed to All-Star point guard James Harden — whom league personnel are expecting to decline his player option in search of a long-term contract — as a driving force behind Rivers’ departure,” Fischer wrote in a story published May 18.

Since then, the Sixers have hired Nick Nurse as Rivers’ replacement. Firing Rivers was a drastic change on the Sixers’ part, but it could very well be what inspires Harden to stay with the Sixers. Even though Harden did not have the best overall playoff performance, the Sixers don’t have a lot of options outside of keeping him.

Insider Said James Harden Had Bad Rapport With Doc Rivers

On the May 16 episode of “The Anthony Gargano Show,” NBA Insider Ramona Shelburne talked about how things were going between Harden and Rivers behind the scenes. From what Shelburne made it sound like, the two were not on good terms.

“The Harden-Doc Rivers thing was never great,” Shelburne said. “There was a lot behind it. There was this team meeting I had heard about where Doc tried to say something about (Harden) going out on the road and how does that look and how does that look to your teammates. If you’re going to do that, you’ve really got to show up in the game. There was a lot of trying to hold James accountable in certain ways.”

Add that coaching Harden was a challenge for Rivers may have been a direct result of the issues the two had with one another behind the scenes. Since Rivers no longer calls the shots in Philadelphia, he no longer has to worry about potentially worsening the team’s chemistry by calling out Harden the way he did.