It would be difficult to say that, with all he’s had to deal with in the past two seasons since he arrived in Philadelphia, coach Doc Rivers has not lived up to NBA expectations. The Sixers won 49 games last season with Rivers running the show, good for first in the Eastern Conference, and that came despite significant missed time from Joel Embiid (24 games), Ben Simmons (18 games), Seth Curry (15 games) and Tobias Harris (10 games).
We know what happened with the Sixers’ payoff flameout against the Hawks, of course, but Rivers has again overseen a promising start to the team’s season despite an influx of injuries. That, though, was before James Harden.
Now that Harden is in place in Philadelphia, there is already chatter that more change could be afoot, and that means Doc Rivers’ job might be at stake in the coming weeks. As one NBA executive told Heavy.com’s Steve Bulpett, “James is a weird control freak.” Might he be enough of a control freak to nudge Rivers out of his job?
That was the speculation from another veteran reporter, Marc Stein, who wrote on his Substack this week, “The conspiracy theory already making the rounds in league coaching circles holds that Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey will eventually want Mike D’Antoni to take over in the hot seat for Philadelphia’s new Joel Embiid/James Harden tag team after D’Antoni’s offensive creativity helped catapult Harden to three scoring titles in Houston.”
Rockets Northeast for the Sixers?
There are suggestions around the league, in fact, that Morey might try to remake Philadelphia into a sort of Houston Rockets Northeast, with Harden as the centerpiece. Harden and Morey have been tight since Harden arrived in Houston in a sign-and-trade in 2012, when Harden was having difficulty getting the Thunder to offer him a sizable contract.
Reporter Kyle Neubeck tamped down the idea that D’Antoni is somehow on his way to Philadelphia, though.
But Morey will have to be careful to monitor an excess of favoritism toward Harden given the hard work Embiid has put in to bring the Sixers back to relevance—and his popularity among the fan base.
As the executive told Bulpett: “That wasn’t a good situation. He had a strong relationship with Daryl. Things never worked with James and Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook or Dwight Howard. At a certain point you have to ask who was really the problem.
“If James gets to Philly, it could be a situation where Embiid’s complete game will depend on whether James wants to give him the ball or not — and James is a weird control freak.”
D’Antoni Would Like to Coach Again
D’Antoni, for his part, has said he would like to return to coaching. He is 70 and worked last year as an assistant for Steve Nash, his point guard while he was coaching in Phoenix, in Brooklyn. He has been a consultant for the Pelicans this year, having previously worked with New Orleans GM David Griffin, also in Phoenix.
D’Antoni departed the Rockets after the 2020 Orlando bubble after a rocky relationship with Houston owner Tilman Fertitta. Morey followed shortly thereafter, anticipating (correctly, it turned out) that Harden would want out of Houston and unwilling to oversee the rebuilding period that surely would follow.