Doc Rivers and 76ers a high-profile match

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Rick Carlisle attended his own firing press conference in 2003. After taking the Pistons from the lottery to consecutive 50-win seasons, Carlisle sat next to Pistons lead executive Joe Dumars and addressed the media.

“If you think he’s going to bring in a stiff behind me, you’re nuts,” Carlisle said. “He’s going to bring in a big-time guy.”

Dumars did. Detroit hired coaching legend Larry Brown, who had just guided the 76ers to 48 wins. The Pistons won the championship in Brown’s first season.

The 76ers and Doc Rivers hope to repeat that success in the latest union between a winning team and winning coach.

Philadelphia just had a highly disappointing season. The 76ers went 43-30 and made the playoffs.

Rivers just had a highly disappointing season. The Clippers went 49-23 and advanced as far they ever have in the playoffs.

As far as disappointments go, these aren’t so bad.

This is just the seventh time a team with a winning record the prior season hired a new coach with a winning elsewhere the full prior season:

Year Coach Prior team New team
2020 Doc Rivers L.A. Clippers (49-23) Philadelphia 76ers (43-30)
2013 Doc Rivers Boston Celtics (41-40) Los Angeles Clippers (56-26)
2003 Rick Carlisle Detroit Pistons (50-32) Indiana Pacers (48-34)
2003 Larry Brown Philadelphia 76ers (48-34) Detroit Pistons (50-32)
1993 Lenny Wilkens Cleveland Cavaliers (54-28) Atlanta Hawks (43-39)
1983 Stan Albeck San Antonio Spurs (53-29) New Jersey Nets (49-33)
1960 Paul Seymour Syracuse Nationals (45-30) St. Louis Hawks (46-29)

These hires all drew plenty of fanfare at the time, but the outcomes are mixed:

  • This is Rivers’ second time on the list. Whether he succeeded or failed with the Clippers is in the eye of the beholder.
  • In 2003, Carlisle landed with the Pacers, who had just won 48 games and made the playoffs for the fifth straight season. He helped turn Indiana into a championship contender. But the Pacers’ title hopes came undone with the Malice at the Palace, and the team gradually declined until firing Carlisle in 2007.
  • Even Brown had his tenure with the Pistons end in a sour note just two years after getting hired. His flirting with other teams during the 2005 playoffs really bothered owner Bill Davidson.
  • After helping build the Cavaliers into an Eastern Conference contender that just couldn’t get past Michael Jordan and the Bulls, Wilkens resigned to take the Hawks job. Wilkens helped turn Atlanta into a playoff mainstay, advancing to the second round more often than not – but never further – during his seven-year tenure.
  • The Nets sent major compensation – money and draft picks – to the Spurs to hire Stan Albeck in 1983. Two slightly above-average seasons later, Albeck left for Chicago.
  • Paul Seymour was the Syracuse Nationals’ player-coach until the 1959-60 season. After retiring as a player, Seymour got hired by the St. Louis Hawks. He took themto the 1961 NBA Finals – but lost his job amid controversy during his second season.

What would qualify as success between Rivers and the 76ers?

Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and an expensive supporting cast create lofty expectations. At the very least, Rivers showed with the Celtics he could help a team reach those ambitions.

This isn’t necessarily quite championship or bust.

But it’s understandable why there’s so much title talk with Rivers in Philadelphia.