Addressing the big question about Doc Rivers’ future as the 76ers’ head coach, team president of basketball operations Daryl Morey gave his assurance on Friday that Rivers will be back next season.
“He’s a great coach,” Morey said one day after the Sixers were eliminated by the Miami Heat in the second round of the NBA playoffs. “I love working with him. I feel like I’m learning from him.
“I think Elton [Brand, general manager] and I and him make a great team. And we’re going to see where this journey takes us. But we feel very good about where it’s going to take us, and it’s going to be where we have a chance to win the title.”
Rivers’ five-year contract runs through the 2024-25 season. Reports this season had indicated that Rivers could be replaced by Mike D’Antoni if the Sixers didn’t advance far in the postseason.
D’Antoni, Sixers point guard James Harden, Morey, and Sixers CEO Tad Brown all worked together with the Houston Rockets. Harden won the 2018 MVP and three scoring titles while D’Antoni was the Rockets coach, Morey the GM, and Brown the CEO.
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There was a sense that Harden could return to that elite level of play with D’Antoni as the Sixers’ coach.
The Sixers hired Rivers in October 2020 to bring a championship to the organization. He was hired a month before Morey arrived as team president.
The Sixers have suffered back-to-back second-round exits during their tenures. Last season, the Sixers headed into the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Sixers have won just once in their last 12 second-round appearances dating to 1986. That was when they beat the Raptors in seven games in 2001 en route to finishing as NBA Finals runners-up.
But the expectation was that things were going to be different under Rivers and Morey.
They were brought in after the Sixers were swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round in 2020. The additions of the league’s ninth-winningest coach and a renowned executive were made to get the Sixers beyond the second round.
“Winning is hard,” Rivers said. “You just don’t show up and says, ‘OK, guys, we’re moving on. It’s hard. We’re not the only organization. Winning is hard to move on. We had an opportunity last year. We didn’t get it done.”
“This year was tough, obviously, with all the injuries and stuff.”
Joel Embiid had two major injuries this postseason.
The MVP finalist suffered a torn ligament in his right thumb in Game 3 of the Sixers’ opening-round series against the Toronto Raptors. Then he suffered suffered a concussion and orbital fracture near his right eye when he received an elbow on April 28 from Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam in the Sixers’ Game 6 victory that clinched series.
On top of that, forward Danny Green tore the anterior cruciate ligament and lateral collateral ligament in his left knee in the first quarter of Thursday’s Game 6 loss to the Heat.
“It’s hard,” Rivers said. “We’re right there. We put ourselves in the argument. And that’s all you can do. And then you come back and keep working at it until you can get over the mountain.”
However, the second round has been a place where Rivers has had issues, having been unable to advance to the conference finals while coaching the Los Angeles Clippers for seven seasons before taking over the Sixers. But in 2008, he led Boston to the NBA championship over the Los Angeles Lakers. His Celtics lost to the Lakers in the Finals in 2010, and they reached the conference finals two seasons later.
Rivers led the Clippers to six postseason appearances in his seven seasons in Los Angeles. They lost in the second round three times. The last two times — 2015 and 2020 — they were a game away and failed to advance, blowing a 3-1 lead each time.