The Case for Doc Rivers
Doc Rivers was the latest, and likely last, candidate to interview with the Sixers for their head coaching position. The Philadelphia 76ers coaching search began on August 24th. From day one, it had seemed that Tyronn Lue would be the leading candidate and that the 76ers were simply waiting for the Clippers assistant coach to finish his playoff run in Los Angeles before negotiating a contract. Lue, former head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, has been the center of rumors and whispers as a leading candidate to replace Brett Brown since the winter.
But as the western conference playoffs unfolded, other names have emerged. First, Mike D'Antoni mutually parted ways with the Houston Rockets. And then on September 28th, Doc Rivers, whom Lue coached under in Los Angeles, was let go from the Clippers. Suddenly, the coaching search looked very different.
The choice between Lue and D'Antoni was mostly stylistic. Mike D'Antoni is known for his offensive philosophies of pace, small ball, and the high volume of three-pointers. An affable coach with a likable personality, D'Antoni had to appeal to the 76ers ownership as a vanguard of modern play styles. Additionally, he spent the better part of a season in Philadelphia as an assistant under Brett Brown before taking the job in
Houston. He is the more known quantity personality.
Tyronn Lue alternatively has a reputation as a fierce competitor who commands respect from his players and has less dogmatic views around scheme. He is known for making adjustments within a season and even game. He won a championship with Cleveland by having a malleable style of play that looked clunky at times in the regular season but prepared the Cavaliers to adjust on the fly in playoff matchups during their championship run.
Lue has a strong personality, and that has been shown in contract negotiations. He was a leading candidate for the Lakers position last summer but pressed his leverage for years and control over his assistants perhaps too far. The Lakers ultimately settled on Frank Vogel as their head coach, and Lue took a job with the Clippers.
Tyronn Lue is also very tied in with Klutch Sports, the supremely powerful sports company run by Rich Paul, representing both Lebron James and Ben Simmons. There was some push back from Joel Embiid on Lue over concerns that it would tip the power balance towards Ben Simmons.
So when Doc Rivers became available, everything suddenly looked very different. Suddenly you have a coach with a championship pedigree who is independent of either of your superstars' camps and has a record of managing a diverse set of player personalities.
Recency bias would point you to the disappointing playoff losses with the Clippers teams with two eras of All-Star talent. But I think back to the coach who managed the egos, intellects, and personalities in Boston. He led Boston to two NBA finals, including a championship in 2008 with a team that had Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo. Those four personalities are very distinct, and Rivers guided them to a 66-16 season and grueling playoff run. "I don't think you should run from pressure. You should run towards it." Said Rivers in the Netflix documentary The Playbook. Philadelphia in 2020 is a pressure cooker for the players, coaches, media, and fans. This embrace of pressure is a necessary mindset to be successful in this city.
I am not gonna coach you to who you are. I’m gonna coach you to who you should be someday. - Doc Rivers
A stand-out segment in the interview for Netflix Rivers' channels Rocky Balboa when he says, "It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward." Rivers says, "Champions get hit over and over and over." There is a resilience that the Sixers may have lacked under Brown this season, as evidenced by their struggles on the road and their inability to overcome Boston.
So there are aspects to Rivers that blend the personality qualities of Mike D'Antoni with the flexibility around the style of play of Tyronn Lue. It should also be noted that Rivers was able to maximize Tobias Harris' skillsets offensively prior to the trade. So if the interview last night went well, Rivers could be mana from heaven, falling into their laps in the final hours of the coaching search.
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