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How the Sixers swooped into position to hire Doc Rivers

Mike D’Antoni would have been the 76ers head coach if the Clippers had not fired Doc Rivers.

Head coach Doc Rivers and his former Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Tyronn Lue were both at one time frontrunners for the Sixers head coaching Rivers accepted Thursday.
Head coach Doc Rivers and his former Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Tyronn Lue were both at one time frontrunners for the Sixers head coaching Rivers accepted Thursday.Read moreJayne Kamin-Oncea / MCT

Mike D’Antoni can blame Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.

D’Antoni would be the 76ers head coach if Ballmer did not fire Doc Rivers as his head coach on Monday.

After that, we all know what happened.

Rivers' representation conversed with Sixers general manager Elton Brand within an hour of his firing. The coach interviewed for the job Wednesday and watched Game 1 of the NBA Finals with Brand. A day later, he accepted the job that was D’Antoni’s to lose entering the week.

This completed a 39-day coaching search that produced three different front-runners.

» READ MORE: 25 things to know about new Sixers head coach Doc Rivers

The job appeared to be Clippers assistant Ty Lue’s to lose after the Sixers fired Brett Brown on Aug. 24 following a seven-year stint. Lue and the Sixers had a mutual interest. The thought was that his recruitment for the job would pick up once the Clippers were eliminated from the playoffs.

Lue was expected to bring an NBA championship resume to the Sixers.

He won consecutive NBA titles as a reserve guard for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000 and 2001. His second title came against the Sixers. As a head coach, he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to their only NBA title, in 2016. Lue also knows Brand from their playing days.

A perfect match for the Sixers, right? Not so fast.

Things started to get interesting on Sept. 8, when Billy Donovan became a candidate after parting ways with the Oklahoma City Thunder. There were also whispers the same day that D’Antoni would become another candidate if chose not to re-sign with the Houston Rockets.

That became a reality on Sept. 13. However, the belief was that the 69-year-old was just using the Sixers as a smoke screen in his expected marriage with the Indiana Pacers. For the past several months, the expectation was that D’Antoni would be hired by the Pacers, who fired Nate McMillan on Aug. 26.

But by Sept. 15, D’Antoni emerged as the front-runner for the Sixers' head-coaching vacancy even though his style doesn’t fit the team.

» READ MORE: In choosing Doc Rivers, the Sixers throw the last lifeline to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid | David Murphy

The job was D’Antoni’s to lose. The 69-year-old would have to bomb his interview with Sixers owners to not be offered the job.

According to multiple sources, Joel Embiid even signed off on the Sixers’ plan to hire D’Antoni.

The All-Star center was happy about facing the basket instead of posting up in D’Antoni’s proposed five-out system. D’Antoni’s plan would have moved Tobias Harris back to power forward. The Sixers would also make trades had D’Antoni been named the next coach, according to reports, and he would have had a say in picking players for his freewheeling style of play.

The Sixers had planned to have a coach in place by Thursday. The only thing left to do was interview Lue two days before that. By that time, Donovan had already accepted the Chicago Bulls job.

But then came Monday’s announcement that Ballmer fired one of the NBA’s best coaches, and the job quickly became Rivers' to turn down.

» READ MORE: An in-depth look into the hiring of Doc Rivers as the new Sixers coach | Podcast

The Sixers couldn’t pass up hiring the coach, who is widely known and respected around the league.

The 58-year-old was the NBA Coach of the Year in 2000 with the Orlando Magic. Eight years later, he led the Boston Celtics to an NBA title. Rivers had a hand in changing the culture and perception of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Rivers has compiled a 943-681 regular-season record in stops with the Magic, Celtics and Clippers. He is two victories shy of passing Bill Fitch for 10th place on the NBA all-time wins list. With the Clippers, he had a 356-206 mark, with the top winning percentage (.631) in franchise history.

Ballmer’s timing was bad for D’Antoni.