One would think Doc Rivers would only have to focus on what’s in front of him.
After all, Sunday marked his first training camp practice as the 76ers head coach. He’s focused on putting the Sixers in position to win their first NBA title since 1983 and forth in franchise history.
However, one of the first questions at Sunday’s media availability had to do with his coaching the Los Angeles Clippers last season.
Rivers took the Sixers job on Nov. 1, three days after being fired by the Clippers. Los Angeles fired him after it squandered a three-games-to-one lead and dropping a second-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets. Former Clippers assistant coach Ty Lue, a member of Rivers coaching tree, was eventually hired to replace him.
Clippers forward Paul George was critical of Rivers last week on the All the Smoke podcast, saying there were no coaching adjustments after going up 3-1. George, who struggled mightily in the postseason, also said that he wasn’t used properly.
“Hey, listen, I enjoyed coaching him,” Rivers said of George. “So not a lot to say there. Ty Lue was sitting right next to me. So he better hope it’s not adjustments. It ain’t going to be much different.”
Rivers chuckled while lightheartedly mentioning Lue, his close friend, before continuing by saying: “Listen, we lost the game, and I think everybody needs to take ownership. [Me] obviously. We can always do better. Players can play better. So as far as I’m concerned, I’ll leave it there.”
Doc on first day of camp
Rivers said he was pleased with their first training-camp practice under extraordinary times due to COVID-19. Under normal circumstances, guys would have been playing pickup games at the practice facility throughout the summer.
But the Sixers have around seven to eight guys who haven’t played full-court basketball since the summer restart in Kissimmee, Fla. A lot of players around the league are in that situation.
So Rivers focused on conditioning and timing during the practice that lasted nearly 2 1/2 hours.
“Honestly, I was surprised, at least in the first [stage],” he said. “I thought we got tired early, which you expected. But I was surprised by how well we actually played today.”
In past seasons, center Joel Embiid’s conditioning has been a hot topic, especially on the first day of practice. He usually entered training camp out of shape due to having to rehabilitate an injury over the summer. However, Embiid said he’s been working hard to stay in shape this offseason, and said he had been playing basketball every day for two months heading into last week’s individual workouts.
Rivers said Embiid took very few breaks during Sunday’s practice.
“We go from action to action to action,” the coach said. “I want our players to feel that. ... The fact that he didn’t feel the need to take a lot of breaks is a good sign for us.”
Rivers is emphasizing consistency on defense in the preseason. Dan Burke, a longtime Indiana Pacers assistant, was hired to run the defense.
Last season, the Sixers’ defense was sixth in points allowed (108.4 per game), 16th in field-goal percentage (.463) and 13th in three-point percentage (.353). But the Sixers gave up the fewest made three-pointers per game (10.4).
“Making sure everybody’s on the same page and a loud team,” Rivers said. “I told our guys, especially I singled out Joel and Ben [Simmons], we got to play with our voices. We got to be leaders on defense with our voices.”
Meanwhile, Rivers has found that assistant Dave Joerger is one of the better offensive coaches in the league. Joerger had head-coaching stints with the Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings before joining the Sixers’ new staff this summer.
“I wanted him on my staff,” Rivers said. “I went to sit with him and go over his stuff, go over my stuff, and try to mesh it together. Today I told Dave, I want them to hear your voice as much as mine offensively. That’s something I don’t do a lot.”
Thybulle’s ankle, new addition
Guard Matisse Thybulle has been hampered with a sore ankle that sidelined him in last week’s individual workouts. He did not scrimmage, but participated in other portions of practice.
The Sixers signed Justin Robinson to an Exhibit 10 contract on Sunday. The 6-foot-1 guard in his second year out of Virginia Tech is a likely candidate to play for the team’s NBA G League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats.
An Exhibit 10 contract is a one-year deal that guarantees that Robinson will receive a training-camp invitation. Exhibit 10 players get bonuses of up to $50,000 to sign with a team’s G League affiliate if waived. They have to play for the affiliate for at least 60 days to get paid.
Robinson played nine games last season for the Wizards, averaging 1.4 points and 5.4 minutes. He spent time in the NBA G League, where he played in 33 games with the Capital City Go-Go and the Blue Coats. Robinson averaged 14.2 points and 5.1 assists in 15 games with the Blue Coats.