Seven years ago, Doc Rivers took over a team in Los Angeles that had star talent — Blake Griffin and Chris Paul — plus some quality role players, such as DeAndre Jordan, and got them to mesh together in a way the previous coach (Vinny Del Negro) could not.
Rivers transformed how those Clippers played on the court — Los Angeles had the best offense in the league for a couple of years early on — but also how they thought of themselves off it. He expanded roles and got guys to trust parts of their game that better fit the team. Griffin was dishing from the elbow and trusting his passing, those Clippers were beasts in transition, and their pick-and-roll combos could target any defense. Those Clippers were winning, they were fun to watch, and there was buy-in from the players in the coach and his system.
Some fans will look back on those “Lob City” Clippers and note they never got past the second round of the playoffs, which is true. However, those teams helped transform the Clippers organization. This was a team that won 50+ games year after year for Rivers, was dynamic on the court, and a real draw at the gate, plus a true playoff threat. Rivers took a franchise that was a laughing stock during the Donald Sterling era and helped bring it to respectability — the kind of franchise that could land a free agent like Kawhi Leonard or draw Paul George. That evolution of the Clippers would not have been possible without the foundation Rivers helped lay.
All of that is why Doc Rivers was the best hire for the 76ers.
He’s not the answer to all their problems, but it’s a step in the right direction.
The 76ers have never been Sterling-level bad as an organization, but in recent years they have gone from “The Process” through Bryan Colangelo and “burnergate” to their current search for how to turn Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons into a duo that can be at the top of the East.
Fans can forget how Rivers helped transformed the Clippers when he arrived. He moved Griffin out of the post (often to the elbow), took advantage of his passing, and got Griffin to trust parts of his game the forward had been reluctant to show before. Rivers got Jordan to buy into a role as a defensive stopper (two-time All-Defense) and a dangerous rim-runner on offense that could finish any lob. Jordan made three All-NBA teams. Rivers got those Clippers to run a little, but more than that they were a force in the halfcourt.
Rivers did all that by figuring out a style of play, then getting guys to accept roles and opportunities within that style. Jordan had wanted more of the offense run more through him, Rivers convinced Jordan to let the offense come to him. Rivers took advantage of the strength of Griffin’s game beyond his pure athleticism. He did the same with Tobias Harris, who is in Philly now but played his best basketball under Rivers in Los Angeles — Harris averaged 20.3 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, shooting better than 40% from three, as a Clipper.
Those Clippers also had an unmatched floor general and on-court chess player in Chris Paul. With all due respect to Simmons’ passing skills, Philadelphia does not have a playmaker of that caliber. Roster changes will need to be made in Philly.
What Doc Rivers brings to the 76ers is not simply the potential to come up with the Xs and Os of a system where Embiid and Simmons can fit together — there are a lot of coaches with those skills — but also to get the All-Stars to buy into that system. He can get the commitment from the players needed to make it all work. Brett Brown could not. Rivers has done this before.
Doc Rivers was the right hire for the 76ers. Ownership may have been starstruck by Mike D’Antoni, but bringing him in would have also required a massive roster overhaul to fit his preferred style of play. Rivers is better suited to coach and win with the roster the Sixers have.
Maybe, in the end, an overhaul is needed. However, landing All-NBA level talents like Embiid and Simmons is too difficult in the NBA to just move on, and the Sixers would never get equal value back in a trade. Philadelphia needs to take another shot with making this roster work.
Rivers is the best coach to do that.
If it doesn’t work this time, then it’s time to talk about an overhaul.