On the heels of another disappointing NBA Playoff exit for the 76ers, many fans were clamoring for the ouster of Doc Rivers.
Instead, they got a firm endorsement from Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey on Friday afternoon that Rivers will indeed be the coach next season.
Daryl Morey was asked whether he can guarantee that Doc Rivers will be back next season: “Yes.”
— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) May 13, 2022
Rivers himself never expressed any doubt about his status, saying Thursday night that he doesn’t “worry about his job.” His confidence makes sense when you consider the financial ramifications for the franchise.
Doc Rivers’ contract with 76ers
The Sixers have 24 million reasons not to fire Rivers. He’s making $8 million over the next three seasons, and that is probably going to be enough justification to keep him around.
It’s important to note that Rivers was hired by general manager Elton Brand before Morey came to the Sixers. While the two have always supported each other publicly, Rivers was never Morey’s hire.
Why does Doc Rivers get so much hate as 76ers coach?
Rivers is an easy target because he is winless in every press conference he’s ever attended.
He infamously threw Ben Simmons under the bus last year, defended his legacy by bashing his previous rosters and claimed that nobody had any expectations for the Sixers this season despite Vegas handicapping their win total between 50 and 51 games during the preseason.
Those Vegas win totals are a decent proxy for what reasonable expectations would be given the talent Rivers had on his roster. By that measure, he’s generally underperformed, albeit not by a crazy amount. He’s 16.5 wins below what Vegas expected of his teams over the course of 23 years.
Doc Rivers teams have hit the under in regular season win totals in 15 of his 23 seasons. pic.twitter.com/TFmOP84eoN
— Steph Noh (@StephNoh) May 13, 2022
The postseason is where Rivers gets the most pushback. He’s the only coach in league history to have blown three 3-1 leads. He’s also blown four separate 3-2 leads.
His teams have imploded on the biggest stages, and that will be a huge part of his legacy whenever he retires.
Why Doc Rivers criticism might go too far
Playoff failures aside, Rivers has coached for 23 seasons. He’s going to hold a lot of records, both good and bad, because of the massive amount of games on his resume.
Alongside those infamous defeats, he also has some undeniably impressive accomplishments, including a ring in 2008 with the Celtics.
Doc Rivers facts:
No. 9 on career wins list (1,047).
No. 7 in win percentage (min. 1000 games)
More titles than HOFers George Karl, Rick Adelman, Don Nelson.
But, go ahead, bash away.
— Michael DeCourcy (@tsnmike) May 13, 2022
The biggest criticism that I and others levy against Rivers is that he doesn’t adjust well. That is also at least partly why he’s blown so many leads. Whether it be sticking too long with Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell back in his Clippers days or stubbornly riding with DeAndre Jordan this season, Rivers likes who he likes. He doesn’t care what other people think.
But Rivers also does a lot of things well that fans and media aren’t privy to. Setting rotations is a small part of a coach’s job. Managing relationships within the locker room is probably more valuable in the long run. Rivers seems to be very good at that aspect, Simmons hiccup aside.
Rivers also deserves some credit for making adjustments later on in the Heat series that at least allowed the Sixers to push it to six games. Getting Joel Embiid back was obviously the biggest factor in their improved play, but Rivers also incorporated some strategic tinkering like mixing up defensive coverages to slow down Tyler Herro and changing the spacing of the team’s offense to successfully combat the Heat fronting Embiid in the post.
The truth is that Rivers isn’t the worst coach in the NBA, despite what you may read on Twitter. He certainly has his flaws, and I think that a lot of the gripes against him are legitimate. But he also does some things well.
Is mediocre coaching a high enough bar for a team trying to win a championship? That is where the haters may have more of a leg to stand on. The Sixers don’t have a massive talent advantage over every other team in the league, so they need to find every possible area to maximize their competitive edge.
If they are confident that they can find a real difference-maker as a coach, then that might be the motivator that ownership needs to swallow the rest of Rivers’ deal and start fresh. If not, then fans are probably going to have to wait until Rivers’ guaranteed money gets a little smaller before Morey can make his own hire.