It is all but certain Doc Rivers will coach Philadelphia Sixers following his dismissal as Coach of the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this week. It isn’t surprising Rivers has another job in the world’s best league less than a week after he got axed for failing to get one of the most talked about teams to the Western Conference Finals.
For starters, the NBA is a league notorious for turning out “recycled goods” especially those who man the sidelines otherwise recently appointed New York Knicks Coach Tom Thibodeau would have been ostracized from the league since his fall at Minnesota Timberwolves. Another reason for Rivers short unemployment stint is down to his CV that has an NBA title, a pair of NBA Finals appearances and multiple Conference Finals appearances which is pretty hard to come by in the league.
The final reason Doc got the Philadelphia job so quickly is heavily connected with the present social climate in the USA that would have increased the heat on the NBA front office about the low number of Head Coaches from minority backgrounds. Even with Rivers presence in the league, the 30 team heavily African American populated league has just five Black Head Coaches at the time of writing.
Alvin Gentry and Nate McMillan lost their jobs once the New Orleans Pelicans and Indiana Pacers seasons ended respectively earlier this season. For a league that has embraced the Black Lives Matter movement and message on racial injustice and police brutality towards African-Americans, this number is subpar. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver hit the right notes when he pointed out the league needs to do better to address the gap. So with all of the above points to consider and job openings in Indiana Pacers, Houston Rockets and New Orleans, Doc wasn’t going to stay unemployed for long.
Having Rivers draw up plays for a talented yet flawed team-more on this later-headlined by two of the brightest young stars in the league in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons is a match made in heaven. On the surface, that is the case but beneath the glossy look are bad pointers that make this pairing one that won’t achieve the success sought by Philadelphia’s hierarchy and fans. As highlighted above, Rivers has a rich CV is considered one of the best Coaches in the NBA but multiple instances in the doomed Clippers playoff run showed otherwise.
Did you know Doc Rivers had fewer playoff series wins in his seven year tenure as Clippers Head Coach than LA Lakers Coach Frank Vogel in his ongoing run as a first year Head Coach of the team?
There was his consistent failure to assign Paul George or Kawhi Leonard to defensive assignments on star players who caused trouble for the team and eventually eliminated the Clippers. Luka Doncic of Dallas Mavericks vaulted into NBA exosphere by having himself an absolute ball against the Clippers in the first round. While no player on the roster can guard Denver Nuggets Nikola Jokic, the Clippers had enough wing defenders who could have been exclusively handed defensive duties to check Jamal Murray but that didn’t happen.
Doncic’s buzzer beating three point shot had Reggie Jackson as the Slovenian’s primary defender while a taller and better defender in JaMychal Green was on the bench with five seconds left to play. Following the Clippers losing the seven game series to Denver after bagging three wins in the first four games, Kawhi’s statement suggested something Philly fans should be weary of.
Leonard had a dig at Rivers by stating, ‘Just have to get smarter as a team,’ and ‘when this team is playing us a certain way, trying to get the ball out of my hands, packing the paint, we’ve got to know what to do.’ Leonard’s statement suggests there were moments where Doc was expected to coach the team and put them in a position to win. Of course it is a Make or Miss League as Rivers famously quoted years back but when Clippers most potent offensive weapon constantly gets double teamed, it behooves on the technical group to exploit that to get other players open.
The Clippers had poor shooting nights in crucial games late in the series but using Kawhi as a double team magnet is a perfect way to get his teammates who excel at slashing to the basket a runway to the rim. Enough about the Doc; time to move to the flawed Sixers who have a talented group of players but can’t get to the Eastern Conference Finals because of the overload of a weakness shared by a huge chunk of the team.
This team can’t shoot to get into a first Conference Finals since Allen Iverson’s heyday and the worst part is Embiid and Simmons are at polar ends to address this issue. Embiid would be an even better player as an exclusively post player but keeps on settling for three point shot attempts he converts at an average clip. Simmons on the other hand, flat out ignores the three point shot but would score better and help his team more if he attempts more shots from deep irrespective of his success rate.
Doncic, Jimmy Butler and Marcus Smart are poor three point shooters, Doncic shot the most air balls in the Bubble, but all three keep shooting away and make a few to make defenders stick a man on them and avoid double teams on their teammates. In Simmons case, his unwillingness to attempt a deep shot imbues defenders with confidence to sag off him and double team Embiid.
The Sixers need a Head Coach to stick Embiid’s frame beneath the rim constantly and bench Simmons when he fails to pull the trigger when defenders play off him. Philadelphia needs a leader who does what needs to be done to get big wins (especially those that make stars like Simmons and Embiid uncomfortable) and from what transpired in Los Angeles, Doc Rivers isn’t the guy for that kind of job.