The Philadelphia 76ers sought a new voice who could motivate Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, handle the media in a big market and bring a championship pedigree.
“I think he will do a better job with Philly’s culture and with Embid and Simmons,” one Eastern Conference executive told HoopsHype. “From what I’ve heard, Brett (Brown) allowed Joel and Ben to do whatever they wanted, and it really hurt the culture.”
Brown and the Sixers lost in Game 7 in the semifinals on a Kawhi Leonard gravity-defying shot at the buzzer in 2019 and were just swept in the bubble with Simmons sidelined. Before his injury, Brown moved Simmons to power forward in an attempt to make the tandem of Embiid and Simmons more cohesive. It’s unclear how Rivers plans to use Simmons going forward.
One thing is clear, Sixers general manager Elton Brand plans to keep Embiid and Simmons together for the foreseeable future before considering moving either player. It’ll be up to Rivers to maximize the duo’s potential, which is a task he can handle, according to one of his former colleagues.
“I think Doc in Philly is a great fit,” a former executive who worked with Rivers told HoopsHype. “I feel like he’ll be able to mesh extremely well with Ben and Joel. Now whether or not they are a great fit with one another in terms of skill set is another question, but I think Doc will do a great job with managing the personalities. He’s an excellent coach and a wonderful human being as well, so I think it will be a very good partnership there.”
Another rival executive who will face Rivers and the Sixers often next season agrees that Rivers is the best person to toe the line between a coach, mentor, and disciplinarian to help Embiid and Simmons coexist better on the court. However, even if Rivers can improve the chemistry of his All-Star tandem, he’ll have a difficult time balancing out the rest of the team’s unbalanced roster.
“I think what Doc does well is exactly what the Sixers need,” the executive told HoopsHype. “He will hold guys accountable and push the best players to be better. Ben and Joel need someone that isn’t afraid to tell them what they need to do. That being said, they still need to change parts of the roster.”
Changing the roster, however, is easier said than done. Philadelphia is projected for a $147 million payroll next season, according to our Sixers salary page. Al Horford is owed $81 million over the next three seasons and struggled mightily in the playoffs, which makes him an albatross to trade. Josh Richardson is on the books for $10.8 million, a bargain for a starting-caliber player in today’s NBA market. Theoretically, he could be traded to shake things up, but given the team’s payroll situation, it would be tough to find equal value at that price.
With seemingly little flexibility to alter the roster significantly, Rivers will have to help one of his former players regain his top form for the overall success of the team.
Tobias Harris is entering the second year of his five-year, $180 million contract. Harris played the best basketball of his career under the tutelage of Rivers averaging a career-high 20.3 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. Harris also shot the ball better than any other time in his career from the field (.487), beyond the arc (.426) and the free throw line (.856).
“They need Tobias to start playing like a max player every night,” one Eastern Conference executive told HoopsHype bluntly.
Expect more turnover on the bench than the player side of Philadelphia’s roster.
Former New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is a “serious” possibility to join Rivers’ coaching staff, according to ESPN. Other names to keep an eye on are Los Angeles Clippers assistant coaches Rex Kalamian, Sam Cassell and Brendan O’Connor.
Of course, those dominoes falling are also dependent on whether the Clippers hire Ty Lue as their head coach or not. If Lue takes over for the Clippers, a potential assistant to keep an eye on is James Posey, who shared the bench with Lue for four seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Posey is currently a writer and host of “The Posecast” on BasketballNews.com.
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto