Philadelphia 76ers Boss Daryl Morey Risking a Huge Mistake if He Dumps Doc Rivers for Mike D’Antoni

Nostalgia is a warm blanket. You wrap yourself in it, remember the good times from days past. It’s a pleasant break from the breakneck pace of now. On the other hand, regret is a cunning mistress, cruel and calculating. It tricks you into thinking you can remake the past but get it right this time. Philadelphia 76ers fans must hope that president of basketball operations Daryl Morey understands the difference.

Morey, for more than 13 years the front-office boss of the Houston Rockets, already dipped into his Gulf Coast Texas past. He brought his longtime Rockets star James Harden to the City of Brotherly Love before the NBA trade deadline.

But there are reports the 2017–18 NBA Executive of the Year has another reunion in mind.

Daryl Morey forgets one fact about the good ol’ days in Houston

In May 2007, Daryl Morey moved from assistant general manager to GM of the Rockets following the retirement of franchise icon Carroll Dawson, per Damien Pierce of NBA.com. He was at the forefront of the rise of analytics in NBA organizations because of his non-traditional background.

Morey graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in computer science and later got an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Before joining the Boston Celtics business office in 2002, the 49-year-old was a statistical consultant focusing on sports. In 2006, he took the assistant GM role for the Rockets.

Following the data became the guiding principle in Houston, and it led to a great deal of success. The Rockets were 640–400 in Morey’s 13 seasons running the organization.

The postseason was another matter, as Houston capped out with two Western Conference Finals appearances.

Mike D’Antoni coached the club for the final four seasons of Morey’s tenure, going 217–101. Along with the conference finals heartbreak in 2018, Houston bowed out in the second round to end each of the other three seasons.

Morey resigned after the 2019–20 and took over the Philadelphia 76ers in November. He inherited a head coach in Doc Rivers, hired a month before.

Is Daryl Morey trying to build the Philadelphia Rockets?

Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations reportedly wants to get two of his former Houston Rockets, coach Mike D'Antoni and star James Harden, back together.
Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations reportedly wants to get two of his former Houston Rockets, coach Mike D’Antoni and star James Harden, back together. | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Rivers led the Philadelphia 76ers to the best record in the Eastern Conference last season. But the team fell to the Atlanta Hawks in the second round of the playoffs.

The veteran coach kept Philadelphia competitive through the Ben Simmons drama, injuries, and a virus outbreak. Joel Embiid is playing at an MVP level, and the Sixers were 2.5 games behind the Miami Heat as play began on Feb. 14.

Rivers earned a spot among the NBA’s 15 Greatest Coaches list. But he might be out of a job sooner than he expected.

Marc Stein reported on Substack that Daryl Morey is interested in replacing Rivers with D’Antoni. What’s next? Will he consider bringing back Jeremy Lin from the Beijing Ducks?

Morey is, of course, intrigued by D’Antoni’s offensive creativity shaping an offense built around Harden and Embiid. Never mind that Harden’s career is a seemingly endless trail of smoldering bridges of stars come and gone — Dwight Howard, Paul, Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, none of them was ever quite enough to keep The Beard happy.

Besides, it would be one thing if Morey was trying to recreate a championship team. But for years, the 76ers have been doing just fine with disappointingly early playoff exits. The franchise’s last NBA Finals appearance was in 2001, and it hasn’t won a title since 1983.

Getting the band back together seldom ends well

The last GM to win a title with the Philadelphia 76ers went back to the familiar pond in his next job, as well. Pat Williams left the 76ers in 1986 in a longshot bid to get an expansion franchise in Orlando. When that worked, he started building the team. He began by hiring coach Matt Guokas, his hand-picked replacement for Billy Cunningham in Philadelphia.

Guokas lasted four seasons, the last with super-rookie Shaquille O’Neal.

These aren’t scarce examples. Isiah Thomas had a thing for hiring people out of the Detroit Pistons organization when he was in charge in Toronto (Brendan Malone) and New York (Larry Brown). Other executives brought back favorite coaches from past jobs. It seldom ended well.

Ask the NFL how well the “if I have a job, you have a job” network works out for it.

This is the path down which Daryl Morey is interested in leading the Philadelphia 76ers. He’d be well-advised to remember the difference between nostalgia and regret. One involves throwing back a couple with old friends and reminiscing. The other means recreating the heartache all over again.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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