Just two days after the Sixers failed to make it past the Conference Semifinals, Doc Rivers was fired from his head coaching position and he has since spoken out about the challenges he faced.
Rivers found it difficult to coach James Harden and many NBA Insiders had reported the pair’s relationship behind the scenes was quite tense all season long.
It was even reported that Harden had a hand in Rivers’ firing but Rivers only details their on-court relationship when he addressed the struggles he faced in Philadelphia.
“It was challenging, Rivers said on the Bill Simmons podcast. “More because we were fighting two things, and not like visually fighting. James was so good at playing one way, and the way I believe you have to play to win, in some ways, is different because it’s a lot of giving up the ball, moving the ball, and coming back to the ball.
“At times, to get him to move and play the way I needed him to play [was challenging]. I thought the first half of the year we were the best team in the game. I thought James was playing perfect basketball. He was a point guard of the team. He was still scoring, but he was doing more playmaking and scoring. And then the second half, he started scoring more, and I thought we got more stagnant at times.”
Harden’s teammate and regular season MVP Joel Embiid was the most talented player Rivers has ever coached, in his own words.
However, to become a championship-level player and reach the heights Nikola Jokic is currently achieving, Rivers acknowledges there are some things the big man needs to work on.
“Number one, he needs to be healthy in the playoffs,” Rivers said. “And this was the healthiest but he still wasn’t 100 percent.”
“He’s got to make all of his players better in the playoffs,” Rivers said. “And Jo [Embiid], his numbers are unfair. If you look at his numbers the last three years in the playoffs compared to the regular season numbers, they’re not very good.
“He has the ability to make his teammates better and when he does it, if you look at our games this year when he did that and dominated, hard to go away from Joel Embiid. It really is. He’s just got to do that on a consistent basis. Not just on the court, but also off the court. Just be around the guys and spend time with your guys and let them know that you love them because they love you.”
It sounds like in a subtle way, Rivers is saying Embiid needs to step up in the leadership department and be a reliable, consistent player that his teammates look to for motivation.
As for his injuries, Embiid did suffer from a knee sprain in this year’s playoffs and a myriad of injuries the last two postseasons before then, which aren’t entirely in his control of course.
Philly has since hired Nick Nurse as their new head coach, who will have his work cut-out for him and will no doubt be nervously waiting to see if Harden will re-sign with the team.