Doc Rivers has a chip on his shoulder.
The 76ers new coach admitted that Monday afternoon. But he’ll tell you it’s not because of how his tenure ended with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers fired him on Sept. 28. That came a couple of weeks after his team blew a 3-1 lead in a second-round playoff series loss to the Denver Nuggets. This marked the second time with the Clippers and third time overall that his team has lost a playoff series despite having held a 3-1 lead.
“I don’t think I need to show people anything,” said Rivers, who with 943 victories is the NBA’s 11th all-time winningest coach. "I think my numbers say what I am.
“Having said that, I’ve had a chip for 20 years. I really have," added Rivers, who was hired as the Orlando Magic’s head coach in 1999 with no prior coaching experience. "Remember I got the job my first year, and ‘How is he getting the job already?’ ”
So there’s always something for him to have a chip about. To know Rivers is to know the former All-Star point guard who turns 59 next week is as competitive as he’s always been.
“The day that I’m not a competitor is the day I stop coaching,” said Rivers, who will begin his 21st full season in January.
His next challenge involves turning the Sixers into an NBA champion. That will take getting some players out of their comfort zones and possibly reshaping the roster.
Perhaps the biggest question is how Rivers will handle All-Stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
The 7-foot-2 Embiid loves roaming the perimeter and shooting three-pointers. He, however, is hard to stop in the paint.
Simmons has a hesitancy to shoot from the perimeter. The big question is whether he will remain at power forward, where he finished the season, or go back to point guard, where he was a third-team All-NBA selection.
How will Rivers utilize the standout duo?
“I think I have to get in the gym a little longer to give you that answer,” he said. “But the second part is this. They’ve won 65% of the games they’ve played in. So it clearly works when they play together.”
Rivers is amazed by Embiid’s talent.
The coach noted the current generation of big men is shooting three-pointers and, in some cases, running the offense. He came to the realization that Embiid can do all of those things by watching film of the center the last couple of days.
“I remember a game, I think it was three years ago in L.A., that he came in and had a dominant performance,” Rivers said. “I think he is a dominant big man, and will be a dominant big man for me.”
Meanwhile, the coach downplayed Simmons' hesitancy to shoot from the perimeter, saying he’s not concerned about it.
“I really am not,” he said. “I’m concerned about figuring out the way to win, and if it takes doing all that, we’re going to figure that out.”
Rivers points out that Simmons can create scoring, whether for himself or a teammate. He noted that the 24-year-old is a two-time All-Star and first-team All-Defensive selection.
“Listen, he’s young," Rivers said. "I’m sure there are things that we’re going to work on and get him better at, and get him better at attacking. But I can’t tell you yet how I am going to do that.
“But I just have confidence that we can get this team to winning, and being a winner.”
Rivers didn’t disclose a preferred position for Simmons, saying he rarely labels a player a one, two, three, four, or five. He doesn’t get lost in the “minutiae” or position his guys play. Instead, Rivers looks at how many points his team scored. He doesn’t care how those points are scored.
“We have Ben that can score points,” Rivers said. "We have Joel. We have Tobias [Harris]. We have Shake [Milton]. We have Josh [Richardson]. This team is loaded with talent.
“We just have to figure out how to make it work the best.”
The Sixers failed to do that this season despite being among the league’s preseason favorites.
But their towering lineup led to well-documented spacing issues when free-agent signee Al Horford was on the floor with Embiid and Simmons.
“We have to play together, you know,” Rivers responded to playing the duo together or bringing Horford off the bench. “But I can’t tell you what my first lineup is going to be on the first day on my job.”
Horford was taken out of the starting lineup in February because the pieces didn’t fit well. He returned to the lineup only because Simmons was sidelined by a back injury before the NBA shutdown (back) and a knee injury in the NBA bubble.
Rivers also takes over a squad with $148.7 million tied up in 11 players next season. A bulk of the money will go to Harris ($34.3 million), Simmons ($30.5 million), Embiid ($29.5 million), and Horford ($27.5 million).
The problem is that the league’s salary cap could remain at its current $109.1 million or even drop because of lost revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic. The same can be said of this season’s luxury-tax threshold of $132.6 million.
So Rivers, who will have a say in personnel decisions, will have to at least try to make adjustments to the roster.
But on Monday, he spoke of loving the pieces.
“When [general manager Elton Brand] called, it was an easy, ‘Get on the plane and take a look’ for me,” said Rivers, who mentioned he considered taking a break from basketball.
"You look at these players, these young players, and ... the fact that they’ve had so much success in so many ways at the ages they are already, and where I think they can go, " he continued. "For me, it’s a job you just couldn’t turn down.
“That’s why I’m here. Just really excited about it.”
And he’s still as motivated as he was a 38-year-old coach taking over the Orlando Magic.