The Sixers are 7-7 on the young NBA season, struggling out of the gate so much that fans have begun calling for Doc Rivers’ head. It doesn’t feel like there’s any imminent change on the horizon — all summer, Daryl Morey doubled down on his commitment to Rivers — but if Philly can’t keep its current win streak going, the fandom’s chorus of dissent will only get louder.
Rivers has been a controversial figure practically from day one in South Philadelphia. The Sixers still haven’t made it past the second round with him on the sidelines. In fact, many of the shortcomings that plagued Brett Brown — stubbornness, inflexibility, schematic blandness — are similarly prominent with Doc. The Sixers deal with the same core problems every season it seems. The transition defense is terrible, they get roasted on the glass, and the team just doesn’t seem to try hard enough.
That last point is the main point of emphasis for fans who hope Rivers is soon dispatched. Another, however, is his persistent refusal to play and develop young talent. It ostensibly led to Philadelphia cutting Isaiah Joe and Charles Bassey before the season, as neither was going to see playing time. Now, the latter is lighting the world on fire in San Antonio.
Sixers fans have a bone to pick with Doc Rivers
Rivers’ reluctance to rely on young talent is rooted in the Sixers’ competitive aspirations. Veterans win games — that’s his approach, and it’s not entirely unfair given where the Sixers want to go. But there are plenty of competitive teams who unearth gems in the NBA Draft, and who subsequently use those gems to great effect.
There’s an excellent example (and simultaneously an exception to the rule) on Philly’s own roster: Tyrese Maxey. Even Maxey wasn’t given consistent minutes until his second season — and only after Ben Simmons left a conveniently massive hole in the starting five.
Outside of Maxey, young players have essentially been afterthoughts under Doc Rivers. Paul Reed has come close to breaking through, but even after earning playoff minutes last season, the 23-year-old’s development is being suppressed by the singularly uninspiring presence of Montrezl Harrell.
Now there’s Charles Bassey, who looks every bit the athletic, rim-running, shot-blocking backup center the Sixers need behind Joel Embiid. Bassey’s play pops off the screen. He’s already locked into significant minutes after a couple weeks in San Antonio, with Gregg Popovich basically saying it would be stupid not to play him because of his obvious talent.
It comes as no surprise that the Sixers’ fanbase has taken notice.
Bassey, who very much looks like a quality NBA player, was on the court for 168 total minutes across 23 appearances for the Sixers last season. Then he was cut, again, because there was simply no path to minutes. Not under Doc Rivers at least, with Montrezl Harrell set to duke it out for minutes with Paul Reed. Roster competition between two young, up-and-coming defensive talents was eschewed in favor of letting the notoriously one-sided Harrell mop up the non-Embiid minutes. Great stuff!
It’s safe to say that large swathes of the Sixers’ fanbase is ready to move on from Doc Rivers. And there’s compelling evidence in favor of letting the former NBA champion walk. The Sixers paid him a hefty contract and there’s no indication that the front office is on the same page right now. But, if former Sixers continue to thrive while Philly stumbles and bumbles around .500, maybe — just maybe — Rivers will start to feel his seat get warm.