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Jump to the Lakers? Please. Doc Rivers has to do his job with the Sixers first. | Mike Sielski

It's silly to talk about Rivers' taking another job when he has been a replacement-level coach so far in Philadelphia. The Sixers' players aren't the only ones facing pressure in these playoffs.

Sixers coach Doc Rivers speaks with the press after practice Tuesday in Camden.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers speaks with the press after practice Tuesday in Camden.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

Doc Rivers couldn’t stomach it, the unseemliness of it all. Three thousand miles to the west, the Lakers had waited about six-and-a-half seconds, following the end of a season of great expectations and lousy results, to leak that they were firing Frank Vogel. And it didn’t take much more time for Rivers’ name to surface, twice in the Los Angeles Times, as Vogel’s possible replacement. So here was Rivers on Tuesday after the 76ers had practiced, pulling up a courtside chair in Camden and lamenting that he had been pulled into this story and pulled away from a task that he hasn’t come close to completing yet: coaching the Sixers to a championship.

» READ MORE: Sixers coach Doc Rivers encouraged Matisse Thybulle to get vaccinated but continues ‘to support the kid’

“It just makes our job so much harder,” he said. “I think it’s so unfair. I thought the Frank Vogel thing was so unfair. We work just like you guys work. How would you like your jobs to be mentioned every day? I mean, even if it’s someone wanting to have you, it’s just not right. I hate it. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

So you’re not a candidate for that job, Doc?

“No, I’m not a candidate,” he said. “I have a job, and I am very happy in my job.”

If only the feeling were mutual throughout Philadelphia. The Sixers will go into Game 1 on Saturday against the Toronto Raptors with 51 victories, with the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, and with a foreboding sense around them that they’re setting everyone up for another springtime disappointment.

Last year, it was Ben Simmons’ disappearing act and some questionable Rivers decisions during a seven-game, second-round loss to the Hawks. This time, it’s the fear that James Harden isn’t the scorer and playmaker that he once was. It’s Matisse Thybulle’s impending absence from any road games against the Raptors because he’s unvaccinated. It’s Rivers’ strange reliance on veterans DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap at the expense of preparing the Sixers’ younger bench players to meet the measure of a postseason moment. And it’s Rivers’ defensiveness — Sunday’s postgame press conference being the latest example — whenever people ask reasonable questions about his strategies and substitution patterns.

Look, Rivers is a fine coach. He won a championship with the Celtics in 2008, and over the last 15 NBA seasons, his teams in Boston, with the Clippers, and here have made the playoffs 14 times. But he wasn’t hired here to be fine. He was hired here to be an improvement over Brett Brown, to be a primary reason that the Sixers finally advanced beyond the second round. So far, he hasn’t reached either of those benchmarks, and for all the eyeballs that will be on Joel Embiid and Harden during these playoffs, their coach deserves his share of scrutiny, too.

Review Rivers’ career, and ask yourself: When was the last time one of his teams overachieved? When was the last time one of his teams went further in the postseason than it was expected to go? Maybe the 2011-12 season, when the Celtics, with the fifth-best record in the East, came within one victory over the Miami Heat — with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh — of reaching the Finals. But Rivers hasn’t coached a team to a conference final since, despite having plenty of rosters, particularly with the Clippers, with more than enough talent to get there.

» READ MORE: Half-vaxxed Matisse Thybulle is a bad (and badly informed) Sixers teammate | Marcus Hayes

His 18 months with the Sixers haven’t been much different. In one sense, it’s unsurprising that he’d be linked to the Lakers opening: Jeanie Buss prefers a big name to be the coach of the league’s most popular franchise, and even with three years left on his Sixers contract, Rivers is as big as anybody in the business. No, the head-scratching part is this: What about Rivers’ closing seasons with the Clippers and his still-brief tenure here suggests that he’s the first coach you want when the games matter most?

The 2019-20 Clippers, with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, fell apart in the Orlando bubble, burping up a three-games-to-one lead to the Nuggets, one player after another violating the league’s COVID-19 protocols. The quality of Simmons’ play already had regressed under Rivers before the Atlanta debacle, and now assimilating Harden into the lineup and maximizing his skills and production have been Rivers’ sternest tests of the season. Call these challenging circumstances if you wish, but at some point, after so many, they started to sound like excuses.

“The year we won it [in Boston], I felt like we were good going in,” he said. “The one with the Clippers in the bubble, there was not a lot of confidence with us because of all the crap. We had four guys miss 40 days or more in the bubble. That doesn’t seem like a committed team. So I didn’t have confidence, just a lot of worry.

“This team, I like us. I said that earlier. I like our team. We have work to do, which always concerns you going into the playoff, making that statement, and I will say that. But I feel like if we can get this right, we’ve got a chance. What I can’t tell you is if we are or not yet. But I do believe if we get it right, if we get the right guys comfortable, I think we can be very difficult to beat.”

Those are still substantial ifs, still questions that the Sixers and their coach were supposed to have answered by now. Doc Rivers is right. He has a job. It’s time for him to do it.