More Sports:

May 17, 2023

What they're saying: Doc Rivers wasn't Sixers' only problem

After a third straight playoff failure, it was plain to see that Doc Rivers was on his way out, but that Game 7 meltdown was far from all on him.

Not even two full days removed from the Sixers' colossal meltdown in Boston, and perhaps entirely unsurprisingly, Doc Rivers was shown the door. 

The Sixers dismissed him from his duties as head coach on Tuesday, and with that, likely the first domino of a long, uncertain, and pivotal offseason fell. 

The second-round wall that has stymied the franchise for years still stands strong, Joel Embiid finally won MVP but fell short in the playoffs again, and with James Harden able to opt-out, it's unclear whether he'll stay put and try again or go elsewhere – provided the Sixers themselves want to bring him back. 

And now they have a coaching vacancy to fill, with a task that Brett Brown and now Doc Rivers have failed to do. 

Wrote our own Kyle Neubeck after Rivers' firing broke:

Of course, the biggest question here is whether a coaching change in Philadelphia ultimately "matters" beyond offering a blood sacrifice to appease the fans after a horrendous showing to end the Sixers' season. The Sixers needed a shake-up of some sort, though Rivers' limitations as a playoff coach do not offer a complete explanation for the disappearing acts of their stars in big moments throughout the series. It's an attractive job opportunity, but a tough one. Anyone signing up for the job will have to offer a sales pitch on how they'd get Joel Embiid and the supporting cast to the next level, breaking through the second-round muck they've been trapped in.

Much to consider, much to do, and will all the frustration, anger, and heartbreak still very fresh. 

Here's what they're saying about the Sixers and Doc Rivers' firing:

Only part of the problem

Mike Sielski | The Philadelphia Inquirer ($)

Given that the finish to this playoff run was, by far, the worst out of all of them, it was plain to see that Rivers had to go.

But that total collpase in Game 7 can't be blamed all on him. Joel Embiid's and James Harden's vanishing acts have to shoulder as much of the blame there too, and until they do – if they do – it won't matter who the next coach is. 

Where the Sixers go from here comes down to their two biggest stars and how they can be better, writes Mike Sielski

Given that track record, given the circumstances of the Sixers’ roster makeup and intra-organizational dynamics, no one should be surprised that they fired Rivers on Tuesday. When a franchise reaches the stage that the Sixers have — the Perennially Underachieving Franchise with Players It Would Be Nearly Impossible to Trade Stage — replacing the head coach is always the easiest move to make. Just because it’s easy, though, doesn’t mean it will be effective.

The Sixers and everyone who follows them ought to enter this next era, whether it’s the Monty Williams Era or the Mike Budenholzer Era or the Coach Whose Name Hasn’t Come Up Publicly Yet Era, with their eyes wide open. With a realistic understanding of how much of a difference a new coach might make. [The Inquirer, $]

But they still need a coach

Rich Hofmann | The Athletic ($)

So what would the Sixers be looking for at the onset?

Playoff experience and success will likely be a big sticking point here. 

Wrote Rich Hofmann after word of Rivers' dismissal broke:

It’s worth noting that this will be Daryl Morey’s first official coaching hire with the Sixers, as Rivers was brought on a few weeks before Morey officially took the president of basketball operations job in the whirlwind 2020 offseason. As long as Embiid is on the roster, the likeliest outcome is that the Sixers will turn to a coach with experience to try to get the roster over the top.

Just in the past few weeks, three coaches with NBA Finals experience (Nick Nurse, Mike Budenholzer, Monty Williams) hit the coaching market. Williams was an assistant in Philadelphia under Brown. Mike D’Antoni has always loomed as a candidate given his ties to Morey and Harden, and he had a brief spell as a Sixers assistant during one of Embiid’s redshirt years at the beginning of his career. And there are other names with experience as well.

Whoever the Sixers do end up hiring, he will be judged on his playoff record. Rivers’ regular-season record with the Sixers was good enough, especially under some adverse circumstances. Embiid took his game to another level in the past three years. But they continued to fall short in the playoffs. [The Athletic, $]

Sam's time?

Dave Early | Liberty Ballers

Now that there's a coaching vacancy, there are a number of high-profile names available, from Monty Williams, to Nick Nurse, to Mike Budenholzer, and so on. 

But a wild card in all of this, or an immediately thought of one at least, is assistant coach Sam Cassell. 

Cassell followed Rivers to Philadelphia from the Clippers, is highly respected among the players and staff, was instrumental in the development of Tyrese Maxey, and at this rate, seems well in line for a head-coaching job if not here than elsewhere. 

Is it his time? 

There's an argument there, for sure – and against too – to consider him, but it is hard to see him as a leading candidate right now with the other big names out there. 

Wrote Dave Early, who ranked Cassell sixth out of six of the best candidate available:

The argument for Big Shot Sam might go something like this: he’s long overdue for a shot at HC. He knows this group and as far as we know, they really like him. He knows the system and wouldn’t need to change a ton, so that might appease Embiid, who seemed to love playing for Doc. Maybe if in an interview Sam said he’d be more willing to play the young guys sooner than later in a given season (he has claimed he suggested they play Maxey sooner back in 2020-2021) and focus more on player development, without drastic change to the top end hierarchy, that appeals?

The case against Sam might go something like this... he’s never been a head coach so you have little clue what you’re getting. Is that ideal for a team of vets as experienced as Embiid, and possibly Harden? Based on rumors in that link to the left, Doc’s leaving may increase the odds Harden returns.

Yet Sam may not be different enough for this front office. Daryl Morey told the RTRS guys that Doc and Sam are “a tandem in my mind.”

And Sam is, perhaps proudly, not an analytics guy. If Morey went to Sam and said I want to try some radical (or basic) new approaches based on my advanced data, would Sam be willing to deviate from his gut and implement it?

I’m not sure. And with all of these unknowns and Doc affiliations, he’s not high on this list. [Liberty Ballers]

Follow Nick on Twitter: @itssnick

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports