This is not the first time Doc Rivers has been fired in Philadelphia. He would never cop to listening to sports-talk radio or scrolling the depths of Sixers Twitter, but Rivers is still aware of the number of times the “Fire Doc!” sentiment has been put out there.
“A hundred times,” he told Heavy Sports’ Steve Bulpett in a one-on-one chat on Sunday, two days before he was fired—for real—by the Sixers. After three seasons in Philly and three trips to the postseason that ended in conference semifinals flops, the team officially let Rivers go and will begin a new search in earnest.
Among the candidates will be recently fired Suns coach Monty Williams and Sixers assistant coach Sam Cassell. There is still a chance, too, that the Sixers could bring in 72-year-old former Suns, Lakers, Rockets and Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni.
‘It’s the Worst Part of Our Jobs’
Revisiting Bulpett’s talk with Rivers, though, it almost seemed that Rivers knew this was coming. Perhaps it was just logic—a third straight failure to improve in the playoffs would put any coach in jeopardy.
Rivers told Bulpett of the difficulty of being fired: “When I talk to coaches — young coaches — in the summer, I tell them one thing: We sign up for it, and it’s part of it. It’s the worst part of our jobs, but it’s part of our jobs, and there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s always easier to replace one.”
Rivers has been replaced before, in Orlando in 2004 and again by the Clippers in 2020. He left the Celtics on his own accord in 2013. This firing by the Sixers marks his fourth departure.
Rivers Cites Bucks, Suns Situations
Rivers made note of what happened with coach Mike Budenholzer in Milwaukee, just two seasons removed from the Bucks’ championship in 2021. He also made note of the fact that the team Bud’s Bucks beat in that series, the Suns, dumped Monty Williams, a former teammate and protégé of Rivers.
The Suns played in Game 6 of their series against Denver without star guard Chris Paul and center Deandre Ayton, and lost by 25 points. And Phoenix traded two big young pieces (Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges) at midseason for megastar Kevin Durant, with little time to build chemistry and iron out roles around him.
“Just look at the last two weeks,” Rivers said. “That’s all you have to do. I mean, Bud has a .693 winning percentage and won a title two years ago, and he’s unemployed. Monty, to me, changed their entire franchise. Forget the coaching part. Monty changed their complete franchise. That franchise was a laughingstock, and because they get blown out … I guess he was supposed to, I don’t know. I don’t know what he was supposed to do. They made a trade, which I think will be a good trade in the long run, but probably not in the short run, and Monty got blamed for that.”
It sounds rather unfair, the way that Rivers put it. But it is accepted wisdom in the NBA, and across sports, really, that when things go badly for a team, the coach is the first to take the fall.
“Listen,” Rivers said, “as a coach, all you can do is what you can do.”