The Philadelphia 76ers are one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season and have a realistic chance to win their first NBA Championship in 39 years. However, there seems to be underlying dissension between head coach Doc Rivers and the Sixers organization, including some players.
Does Rivers have a future with the Philadelphia 76ers
My fellow Sixer Sense writer, Lucas Johnson, wrote about the recent Bleacher Report article that included Rivers’s name as a potential candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz jobs next season. This was a shock to read considering Rivers will still be under contract with the Sixers and this team is having a great season this year, accumulating 51 regular-season wins.
Perhaps we should have seen a rift coming all along. Let me take you back to the NBA trade deadline, when the Philadelphia 76ers made the blockbuster trade to acquire James Harden from the Brooklyn Nets. Soon after it went down there was media speculation about the possibility of Harden reuniting with his former head coach in Houston, Mike D’Antoni in the near future in Philly, per Marc Stein.
Now it first appeared this was just a media created narrative, but it is important to note Daryl Morey, the current Sixers president of basketball operations, was the general manager of the Houston Rockets during D’Antoni and Harden’s tenures there.
The team experienced legitimate success during that run. These rumors and stories would obviously not be well-received by the team’s current head coach Doc Rivers and could have been the start of a separation with the organization.
Fast forward to the last game between the Sixers and the Milwaukee Bucks this year. This was a big-time game with playoff seeding implications and the Sixers held an eight-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. At the start of the quarter, Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 15 straight points with Joel Embiid on the bench and in his postgame press conference, Embiid seemed to take some vague shots at the coaching.
Embiid’s exact quote was “The game really changed when I went on the bench…Maybe next time, just match up the minutes (with Giannis)”, per Jasmyn Wimbish of CBSSports. Playing time is notably the head coach’s responsibility and the fact Rivers let Giannis go off for a solo 15-point run and didn’t put Embiid back in the game was irresponsible and a poor coaching decision.
This could be a bigger issue if the Sixers’ MVP-caliber player is publicly criticizing the head coach, whether directly or indirectly. In a star-player-driven league, the best players can force out coaches and other players, just ask LeBron James.
Now, somehow as the regular season is over, there is more uncertainty about this team’s future than ever before. Can this current roster reach its maximum potential in the playoffs? Are there more internal issues between Rivers and the players? Do the Sixers offer James Harden a max extension with his somewhat disappointing play recently? Will a new coach be what this team needs to take them to the promised land?
I wish I could answer any or all of the above questions. I wish even more that I could block out all the noise and enjoy this upcoming playoff ride the Philadelphia 76ers is about to embark on. I am not sure either of those are realistic options though. This baggage is part of the team and whether it will impact the play on the court is yet to be seen.