There still are quite a few questions left unanswered about whether Doc Rivers can lead this Sixers team to a title. His puzzling rotational decisions, the team’s stagnant fourth-quarter offense, and history of multiple collapses in the playoffs certainly leave much to be desired.
With that being said, Doc Rivers has done a great job navigating some incredibly tough circumstances early on in the season. While the Covid outbreak and overall lack of bodies have resulted in a slip in their record, don’t forget that a little over two weeks ago, the Sixers were 8-2 and sitting atop of the Eastern Conference.
No coach could be prepared to deal with the ongoing Ben Simmons situation, which Rivers has taken in stride to face this year. Putting the focus on the players that are here and ensuring the team is focused on the job at hand is a tone that is set at the top, and Rivers has done a great job instilling this. This message has been echoed by just about everyone in the organization and especially Joel Embiid.
Rivers also should get credit for maintaining a firm stance with Ben Simmons as a whole. Perhaps the greatest example of this was when Rivers kicked Simmons out of practice during the short stint that he did spend with the team. As Doc put it during the media availability following the incident, “I just thought it was a distraction today. I didn’t think he wanted to do what everybody else was doing… I just told him, ‘You should leave, Ben,’ and we went on with practice.”
The ongoing fight between Simmons and the Sixers camp is one that does not seem to have an end in sight. Simmons’ effort at practice had been questioned in the few days he was with the team, and the level turned nonexistent on his final day with the team. Rivers apparently set up a defensive drill for the Sixers to go through a defensive drill. Simmons elected not to participate in the drill with the rest of the team. After asking Ben to participate in the drill multiple times, it was clear Simmons had no interest, and Rivers rightfully sent him packing.
It has felt as if there has been so much stepping on eggshells throughout this entire process that this was a much more difficult decision than it may seem. It is pretty clear that Ben Simmons and the Sixers are no longer in each other’s future plans. Making it clear that Simmons will not be a detriment to the current team has been essential to finding any success this season.
In the first 10 games to start the year, the Sixers went 8-2, including wins over the Portland Trail Blazers, Atlanta Hawks, and two wins against the Chicago Bulls. Even with a relatively slow start from Joel Embiid, the Sixers found guys to step up and compete on a nightly basis and showed grit that resulted in success. It also has become increasingly clear that Joel Embiid enjoys playing for Rivers which is critical in the long term. In addition to Embiid having the best year of his career under Rivers, just look at the pure joy in the big fella’s face after Doc picked up his 1000th win.
Both Andre Drummond and Georges Niang gave credit to Doc Rivers for part of their reason for signing with the Sixers this past offseason. Each player has been tasked with a larger role than initially expected since the recent Covid outbreak on the team and has proved valuable to the team. It is not clear if their relationships have played a role, but the Sixers seem more connected with Rivers more than ever.
During the shorthanded stint, the Sixers played several seemingly unwinnable games yet showed up to compete single every night. Aside from last week’s 120-85 loss to the Utah Jazz last week, the Sixers have competed and stayed in just about every game this year and become the most fun to watch Sixers team in several years.
Doc Rivers is not perfect, but he has done an impressive job managing the Sixers so far this season. As the season continues to get deeper, the tactical decisions by Rivers that have frustrated Sixers fans will become more important. However, it is also important to take the good with the bad and recognize the team would likely be in a much worse position at this stage in the season if there was another Head Coach at the helm.