Philadelphia 76ers Coach Doc Rivers Said NBA Coaches are Facing ‘A Lot of Frustration’ About COVID Impacts

Doc Rivers has been around the NBA as a player, TV commentator, and head coach for the last 29 years, so in some ways, he is the Kevin Bacon of the league. Almost every player, coach, and front-office staffer can be connected back to the affable head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers through a couple of degrees of separation.

That being said, Rivers has picked up on a distinct vibe stemming from his talks with many head coaches and assistant coaches throughout the NBA in recent weeks. It is this: Coches are scared, frustrated, and all knocked out of whack by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus (COVID-19) that has ransacked the league over the last month.

The NBA’s Health and Safety Protocols have hit teams — and their coaching staffs — hard

When Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd failed one of the many COVID tests that NBA personnel must take, he became the 13th head coach to go into the league’s health and safety protocols. Both coaches from last season’s NBA Finals — Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer and Phoenix’s Monty Williams — have had to miss time, as have former championship-winning coaches Frank Vogel and Rivers.

After he tested positive, Rivers said he had a couple of days of feeling lousy but then had to wait out the quarantine period while “coaching from your living room.” He didn’t get his test results that came back negative until the wee hours of the morning, but he was still able to hop a plane a couple of hours later and rejoin the 76ers in Orlando for their win that night.

“I feel great. I think I had two days (of not feeling well), but other than that, coaching from your living room is sweet,” Rivers joked earlier this week before a game. “I know we are doing the (load management) with players, but we may have come up with something here for coaches.”

Frustration building among coaches out of action and forced to juggle rotations

Like most everyone tired of wearing a mask, socially distancing from others, and living in fear of getting sick, NBA head coaches are dealing with large amounts of COVID fatigue these days. They coached in the Disney World bubble in 2020, coached with few fans in the arenas in 2021, and have to coach with patchwork rosters in 2022.
With rosters hit especially hard by the virus, the NBA had to call up more than 100 players from the G League. Already, 11 games have had to be postponed and rescheduled. Also, All-Star players, such as LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Joel Embiid have been in the league’s health and safety protocols.

Coaches have struggled to build continuity and flow within their rotations and have often met new players for the first time just hours before tipoff. These days, many coaches are drawing up game plans that can and have changed just hours before tipoff because of positive test results to a key player, or two, or even three.

In addition to wiping out dozens of players, the virus has also run rampant throughout the coaching community. When a Philadelphia 76ers team already missing assistant coach Dave Joerger (cancer diagnosis) recently lost Rivers to a positive test, the squad had just one actual bench coach available — veteran assistant Dan Burke. As it turned out, the impact was minimal on a Philadelphia team that went 2-0 and has successfully put aside the drama surrounding disgruntled star Ben Simmons.

Rivers said the usually tight NBA coaching fraternity has been good about checking up on members dealing with bouts of COVID. They’ve shared horror stories, symptom relief tips, and gripe sessions about one of the oddest NBA seasons on record.

“When you coach for a long time, you make a lot of friends, you talk to a lot of coaches, and you really talk to the ones you know well,” Rivers said. “There’s a lot of frustration out there right now (among coaches). There were a few coaches who were feeling poorly. And then there were some who were like, ‘Hey, I feel great,’ and they were frustrated they couldn’t get back out there.”

Frustration reigns among NBA teams about testing and delivery of results

NBA coaches are notorious control freaks who often control every decision a basketball squad makes — down to the brand of toilet paper in the restrooms. However, many of them have had to relinquish control of the variables that surround this particularly uncontrollable virus.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said the biggest complaint among NBA coaches is that the league has no control over the testing protocols that teams must adhere to daily. If NBA head coaches had their way, Rivers said, there would be a priority on getting test results back as quickly as possible for various reasons. Primarily that would help teams isolate infected players and coaches sooner and, also it would give them more notice when preparing game plans.

“From a coaching point of view, it’s obviously easier for us because we don’t have to run up and down the floor, but I’ve heard from some coaches that they’ve struggled with it,” Rivers said, referring to the fatigue and brain fog instances that have been prevalent.

“Also, it’s just so late when we get (the results of tests) back,’’ Rivers continued. “It’s not like we can control that. If the teams could change one thing, it would be having control over when they get the results back. But we have no control; we have to wait, and sometimes they come in between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., and we just have to wait on them.”

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