It did not take Doc Rivers long to land on his feet. Just days after the Los Angeles Clippers fired the longtime NBA coach, the Philadelphia 76ers decided Rivers is the right man to coax the best out of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. With his next coaching job secured, the pressure falls on the ex-Clippers coach to turn around a 76ers team that never lived up to its potential under Brett Brown.
Will the 58-year-old succeed in maximizing a talented roster? Or will Rivers fall short just as he did in LA?
Doc Rivers and the Clippers just parted ways
Doc Rivers has spent the last two decades carving out a reputation as one of the most respected head coaches in the NBA. He enjoyed a terrific nine-year run with the Boston Celtics that included winning a title in 2008. In 2013, the Clippers traded a first-round draft pick to the Celtics to secure Rivers’ services.
Tasked with taking over an LA team that went 56-26 the year prior, Rivers led his squad to a 57-25 record and an appearance in the Western Conference semifinals in his first year on the job. The Clippers actually got eliminated in that round in back-to-back years before getting bounced out of the first round in consecutive seasons.
After failing to qualify for the postseason in 2017-18, Rivers’ team once again met an early playoff exit in 2018-19. After going 48-34 during the regular season, the Clippers had no answer for Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors under the bright lights of the postseason.
This season ultimately proved no different for the LA franchise. Despite having Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers choked away a 3-1 series lead over the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semifinals. On Sept. 28, the Clippers fired Rivers following a seven-year run that included six postseason trips that ended without an NBA title.
Rivers secures his next NBA coaching job
Back on the job market, Doc Rivers needed little time to secure his next NBA coaching gig. In fact, it only took a few days for the Chicago native to go from being unemployed to having one of the league’s 30 head coaching positions again.
On Thursday, Adrian Wojnarowski first broke the news via Twitter that Rivers agreed to terms with the 76ers to become the franchise’s next head coach. Later, the ESPN NBA insider reported Rivers scored a five-year deal with Philadelphia.
He replaces Brown, who held the job for seven seasons. Under Brown’s watch, the 76ers did show significant improvement.
When the former San Antonio Spurs assistant took over, Philadelphia could not even crack 20 wins. However, after going 28-54 in 2016-17, Brown led the 76ers to a 52-30 record the following year. Philadelphia then won 51 games in 2018-19.
Yet, like Rivers’ Clippers squad, Brown’s 76ers consistently fell short of expectations in the playoffs. Now, the organization will entrust the former LA coach to bring a fresh approach to a roster teeming with potential.
Can the veteran coach help the 76ers reach their potential?
Doc Rivers failed to win a championship with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. But can he achieve postseason success with a team built around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid? Brett Brown couldn’t, but the 76ers clearly believe Rivers has the ability to coax greatness out of their two dynamic All-Stars.
Of course, that’s assuming Philadelphia elects to continue trying to win with a roster centered around the two former lottery picks.
Simmons may have been named NBA All-Defensive First Team, but he does not provide the dynamic scoring ability of a true superstar. To this point, he has averaged just 16.4 points per game, and he does not possess the ability to shoot from 3-point range. Simmons does provide great value as a defender and distributor, but Rivers may not want to build around a player with clear limitations on offense.
Philadelphia could look to trade Simmons this summer. He would certainly fetch an attractive collection of draft picks and players. However, it would also represent a small step backward for an organization that has told fans to “trust the process” for years.
On the other hand, the 76ers may want to give the Simmons-Embiid pairing one last chance. Individually, the two young stars possess elite ability. Yet, the 76ers have failed to find the right supporting cast and offensive approach to make good on their potential.
Now, it will be up to Doc Rivers to make the pieces work.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.