The biggest storyline surrounding the Philadelphia 76ers to start the season has been the job security of Doc Rivers. While the inconsistent play of Joel Embiid, the injury to James Harden, and the overall underwhelming play of the new additions have also been causes for concern it has been Rivers’ mismanagement of the roster that seems to particularly be rubbing fans the wrong way. The 6-7 start to the season has been extremely underwhelming and Rivers is an easy man with a target on his back.
Heavy Sports’ Sean Deveney recently spoke with an Eastern Conference executive regarding the situation. As the anonymous executive stated:
“Of course, you hear he is in trouble, people have been saying that since last year. They have had a tough, tough schedule, though. They have had some tough, close losses, and Doc gets blamed for that but a lot of those are 50-50 games. Now they don’t have (James) Harden. So Daryl (Morey) knows that. They have a homestand now, some tough games, too, but they need to stay level through that. I would keep an eye on the situation through the end of the month. If they’re not playing better, a couple games over .500 by the end of the month, that could be crunch time for him.
But the other thing is, OK, you fire Doc, now what? Do you make Sam Cassell the coach? You have to have some confidence that he can do the job. Are you going to bring in Mike D’Antoni—and I don’t think they’d do that, by the way—and change everything you’ve been doing? Quin Snyder might be a fit, but would you want to bring a guy like that in during the season? Doc has taken teams to the Finals and whatever the critics say, whatever the flaws he has, he has done the job before. Are you going to replace him with someone who hasn’t? It is easy to talk about firing the coach but, then what?” per Sean Deveney of Heavy Sports.
Are Sixers Best Off With Rivers?
This executive makes an excellent point about the grass not always being greener on the other side. However, the Sixers are in a unique position in which they have one of the strongest assistant coaching staffs in the NBA. While D’Antoni and Snyder are each intriguing names with notable accomplishments on their resume, this would call for a large amount of change.
In contrast, guys like Sam Cassell, Dave Joerger, and Dan Burke each have legitimate cases for why they could succeed as the Sixers’ head coach and much more familiarity with the current roster. Cassell is the fan-favorite and deserves a ton of credit for his role in the rapid development of Tyrese Maxey. Joerger has six years of head coaching experience during his time with the Grizzlies and Kings, including two Coach of the Month Awards. Burke is best known for his defensive influence which is a point of need on the current roster.
However, it is unknown exactly how each of these guys would handle the role. For better or for worse, the Sixers know what they have in Rivers. Concerns over his rotations and offensive sets are fair, but they are not the only issues with the Sixers thus far.
Rivers Destined to Stay Regardless?
While a notable storyline surrounding the Sixers has been that Rivers was hired before Daryl Morey took control, the relationship between the two appears to be strong. The two have a relationship dating back to their time with the Celtics and Morey has acknowledged desiring to hire Rivers in Houston in the past.
Kyle Neubeck of The Philly Voice believes the Sixers are not in a rush to move on from the head coach and stated in a recent article, “barring a true free fall, I am not convinced the Sixers are going to move on from Rivers. In fact, conversations I’ve had with people about the state of the team suggest they view this as a group problem to be solved, rather than an issue to pin on Rivers. The front office is aware the offseason acquisitions (save for Melton) have underwhelmed, and that Rivers only owns his share of the responsibility.”
It also should be noted that Rivers still has three years and $24 million remaining on his contract. Moving on from the veteran head coach would be an expensive decision and one they must be sure about.
One of the biggest concerns has been the inconsistent effort from the Sixers to start this season. There are varying options on how much this should be attributed to the head coach. On one hand, players not showing fire could be taken as being unresponsive to the guy in charge. However, it also should not be the role of a head coach to have to beg for players’ to show intensity on the court. These guys are professionals and should be able to be counted on to compete on a nightly basis. Embiid has stood up and taken ownership of this early on this season but also is one of the main culprits for lacking in this area. The Sixers’ energy level often mirrors the superstar and they will not succeed if he continues to have games where he comes out flat.
The bottom line looks to be that if the Sixers are to make a head coaching change, they likely would have to free fall to a point that no one wants to see. As mediocre as they have been to start the year, the franchise still has enough top-end talent to be confident this will change. This will be a storyline to monitor, but fans should not sit around waiting for a breaking news tweet from Adrian Wojnarowski or Shams Charania in the near future.