President Trump said, “Bad things happen in Philadelphia.”
Now, he’s got COVID-19 and Philly has a great new coach.
After a Sixers season that started with so much promise and ended in abject failure, the team finally made something good happen and hired Doc Rivers as its head coach.
Rivers was fired by the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday — even though he had two years remaining on his contract — in response to his team blowing a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets in the NBA’s playoff Bubble.
The Sixers fired longtime coach Brett Brown after they were swept by the Celtics in the first round. (While Brown did an admirable job leading the franchise through the tortuous “Process” years, he was never going to be the right guy to lead the Sixers through the next phase and onto a title.) They were said to be hot on the trail of Mike D’Antoni. While D’Antoni would undoubtedly have been an improvement, the fact that GM Elton Brand was able to turn on a dime and land Rivers is a credit to himself and the team: They got the better coach.
As Deadspin’s Rob Parker wrote a week ago:
Winning a lot of games and getting to the second round can’t be the goal for Philadelphia. Been there, done that. When you think back to D’Antoni’s days with the Suns, it’s mind-boggling they never got to The Finals. All that talent wound up being wasted.
Rivers, currently only the fifth Black head coach in the league, showed his leadership when he talked about the Jacob Blake shooting as his voice cracked and he welled up with emotion:
“All you hear is Donald Trump and all of them talking about fear. We’re the ones getting killed. We’re the ones getting shot. Were the ones that we’re denied to live in certain communities. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. And all you do is keep hearing about fear.”
That creates a level of respect that can’t be bought or sold.
Rivers is the best coach the Sixers have had since Larry Brown hightailed it out of town in 2003 to win a title in Detroit. Rivers has something D’Antoni doesn’t: A ring (2008). And he has a long history of working with megastars and big egos. He instantly commands respect in a way that Brown and even D’Antoni never could.
It’s been a long, trying time for Sixers fans, who went through “The Process,” the atrocity of the Bryan Colangelo hiring and Burnergate, and more recently, billionaire owner Josh Harris trying to nickel-and-dime his arena employees. Then there’s the humiliation of watching Jimmy Butler shoot his way into The Finals after choosing a barely ambulatory Al Horford over him.
Will Doc be able to teach Ben Simmons to shoot? Well he’s not a miracle worker. But it’s a sure bet that the former point guard who has coached teams to the playoffs 12-of-the-past-13 seasons will have a better plan in place than whatever mess Brown was running this season.