Sometimes the same old, same old can be comforting. That slice of pie from your favorite diner in town. The way your car’s engine makes that funny little noise when you brake too hard. For the Philadelphia 76ers against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night, the same old was very much not comforting.
One of the biggest question marks heading into the season was how head coach Doc Rivers would rotate guys in and out of the lineup and what adjustments he’d make before and during games. And if anyone thought Rivers might change things up a bit, they were sorely mistaken. Perhaps more so than any loss was how the Sixers went down. Rivers played veterans over hungry youngsters (Paul Reed saw no time), left Thybulle on the bench while the Celtics wings scorched Philadelphia on the perimeter, and failed to develop anything creatively to mask the defensive shortcomings of a Maxey-Harden backcourt.
And according to NBA guru Bill Simmons, more of the “same old” could ultimately get Rivers fired sooner rather than later.
“FanDuel should have Mike D’Antoni Coach of the Year odds up because I think, I said this before the sesaon and I’ll say it again: the leash is short,” Simmons said on his podcast Wednesday. “The way they looked tonight, same old Sixers, super slow, bad transition defense, offense getting bogged down, didn’t love the body language.
“If this team is 8-8 after 16 games or 8-9 or whatever, slow start, that’s it. They’re going to make a coaching change. It’s gonna happen.”
Even though Simmons is adamant about the Sixers potentially moving on from Rivers, at least one GM thinks otherwise.
Eastern Conference Exec Thinks Rivers Safe, For Now
Simmons didn’t mince words in his seething warning to Rivers. But one Eastern Conference executive who spoke with Heavy.com insider Sean Deveney last week cautioned against any imminent changes at the helm for Philadelphia.
“It would have to be a very slow start for them to make a move in the middle of the season, and they’d have to get the feedback from the players, from Harden and Embiid, PJ Tucker, guys who Daryl trusts. Sam Cassell is on the bench there so they could have a ready-made replacement. They have a really good staff there, Doc is one of the best at putting together a staff. Hard to see them making a move there, though.”
In addition to Cassell, the Sixers also have former Sacramento Kings skipper Dave Joerger on staff, who could realistically also fill in given a Rivers departure. But Simmons pointed to another well-known name as Rivers’ replacement: Mike D’Antoni.
D’Antoni, who currently serves as an advisor for the New Orleans Pelicans, shares a common link to this Sixers team: he’s a former Rocket.
D’Antoni Would Complete Rockets 2.0 in Philadelphia
Between 2016 and 2020, D’Antoni was the head coach for the Houston Rockets, leading a team that featured a prime, perennial MVP candidate in James Harden in the backcourt and current Sixers GM Daryl Morey in the front office. Over his nearly 25 years of head coaching experience, D’Antoni has been twice-named NBA Coach of the Year and boasts a 56% winning record in charge. During those Rockets years, D’Antoni reached the Conference Semifinals every year, advancing to the Western Conference Finals in 2018.
But Rivers and D’Antoni couldn’t be further apart philosophically. In Phoenix, D’Antoni pioneered a blistering basketball style that encourages pacing and generating favorable two-on-one matchups offensively. A few years later, he brought that philosophy to Houston, employing Harden and Chris Paul as instigators of high pick and rolls. It’s tantalizing to imagine the same in Philadelphia, only with Joel Embiid running to the rim instead of Clint Capela.
As it stands, the Sixers’ greatest weakness might be its slow, deliberate pace. Last year, Philadelphia finished 25th in pace, with teams like the Brooklyn Nets hunting that lack of quickness to their advantage. Come playoff time, teams will know they can out-hustle Philadelphia, which is why a technically inferior Miami Heat team ran riot over the Sixers last year in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Well, that and a broken face from Philadelphia’s best player.