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February 24, 2021

Eytan Shander: Doc Rivers, Daryl Morey showing how to take Sixers from rebuild to contenders

Plus, the brilliance of Tiger Woods

If you can’t beat ‘em, you lose as many games as possible, draft a couple of young stars, and once things start coming together you upgrade the staff. It’s the NBA, it’s what they do. And it’s far from any sort of indictment on the coach charged with tanking and then rebuilding, rather showing how vital this upgrade process is and why it truly works.

Here’s my evidence: Doc Rivers. That’s it. 

The message that keeps coming from Rivers is evident by the improved vibe on this team. It’s reinforced by how well both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are playing together. Rivers is the “Harris Whisperer,” having him playing at an All-Star level even if he got snubbed. It’s everything that we see, transferred into a box score, but it’s what we can’t count every night that truly makes the difference.

There is a strong sense of respect for those ensuring order. Players – even young ones like Thybulle, Maxey, and Milton – love coming to work and putting in the effort. Guys have worked to get better on the floor, but the energy carries over off the court.

Just think about how insane this place is going to be once fans are allowed in for the playoffs. Rivers’ presence here is so much more than just a veteran voice speaking with a different tone than his predecessor, and with the jewelry to back it up. It’s about what he represents. What Daryl Morey represents. Especially for a franchise that has looked the exact opposite — textbook definition chaotic — far too often.

Suddenly we don’t have front office ownership or GM incompetence. We don’t have non-basketball people putting their non-basketball noses in basketball decisions, i.e. Jeff Lurie Syndrome. We don’t even have to ask the ever-important Philadelphia sports-related question, “Who do we blame?”

We know the answer. It would be Morey, Rivers and the folks who brought them here — but we are a long way from that, and trending in what seems like the complete opposite direction. Instead for the first time in a while, the Sixers present to you an entirely new concept: stability.

This is why making a move from the Brett Browns of the world to the Doc Rivers of the world is crucial in “landing the plane” in any tank/rebuild. You have to upgrade the message, yes, but more importantly you have to convince the players that the mentality has truly changed. You have to “re-command” the respect in the room as both coach and GM. You have to destroy the old ways of not only losing but also ensuring you lose.

Rivers doesn’t have to be Phil Jackson or Red Auerbach, he’s his own man and coach doing wonders right now. You can be foolish and reduce his impact to whether or not this team wins a championship this season, or if they make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. I am looking at what has already been accomplished and am perfectly content.

The message is uniform from the team’s front office through their coaching staff right down to what's being executed on the floor by the players. This is one of the most difficult things to do in sports, change the belief in the message. Teams constantly bring in new voices, and for a little bit those voices may work, but the conviction is surface-level at best.

Doc and Daryl have young stars believing they can be MVP, DPOY, and ultimately NBA champs. They established a message, put it into action, and all it took was players responding. So often in sports we see teams stay stuck in a rut — it’s like the stench of losing can’t be bleached out of the building. 

But the Sixers have successfully erased any lingering smell of losing and dysfunction, and that's a big step for any team.


I was as shocked as you when the news came down about Tiger Woods involvement in the single-car wreck in Los Angeles. That was followed by multiple reports coming down about just how serious the injuries are, through reports of the level of surgery being performed on Woods. As I sit here and write this, things are not good at the very least for Tiger — although based on the initial footage of Woods' mangled car on its side things could certainly be worse.

This is such a complicated man with an even more complicated past. He’s one of the best to ever do it in his sport — something that only a small few can truly claim. Outside of one other golfer, nobody in the sport can even sniff that level of domination. While we await just how bad and detailed of a catastrophe this is for Woods, it got me thinking about one thing in particular, one detail about the sport he plays versus anyone and everyone else.

If you’ve never played golf or watched it on TV – and that’s okay – you will have to take my word for it. By that I mean simply asking as many people as you know who do at least one of the above to verify what I am about to tell you. This man – coming from a golfer who is LUCKY to break 100 – is the best GOAT of any GOAT to ever GOAT. He’s the GOAT.

There isn’t a sport like golf that punishes you without the need or help of anyone else. While track conditions and court surfaces may vary in other sports, no sport is actively trying to destroy you quite like golf. It features hazards like sand and water, not to mention ridiculously thin fairways and rock-hard greens.

There’s also the matter of just how freaking difficult it is to play the game. No other sport has equipment that essentially works against you. Everything including the physics works against logic. Hitting a round ball with a round object consistently straight would make Galileo’s brain explode.

I’m sure the “father of modern physics” would also be perplexed at the site of a MLB batter crushing a baseball 450ft. But you get points for going opposite field to get on base, in golf you get crushed if you hit it far right or left.

Tiger mastered all of this. He dominated a sport that requires a different set of mental toughness. It doesn’t mean Tiger is “tougher” than anyone, or that it negates anything a Michael Jordan or a Serena Williams or a Wayne Gretzky have accomplished. They each bring their own set of sharp mental skills to their craft.

It’s simply the game he plays that separates Woods from everyone else. Watch some of the world’s best this week, or any week, and see how easy it is to mess up. You don’t even need to focus on guys at the bottom of the leaderboard, simply watch the guys at the top. Watch how often a guy misses a putt or pulls a shot or hits into the bunker – all en route to leading the round. You can’t be perfect in baseball. You are lucky to be alive in golf.

Playing the game of golf at a consistently high level is the most impressive thing – for me – in all of sports. Woods dominated a game that just doesn’t allow itself to be controlled. You can add all of the extra elements that make up Tiger to your own conversations, what he did for the game and for so many people of Color to the affairs and “injury” he suffered as a result.

Those are much more difficult conversations to have, especially with people not as familiar with Woods. The easiest place to start would be highlights of him destroying entire fields of golfers. They shouldn't be hard to find.

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Follow Eytan on Twitter: @shandershow

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