Was Doc Rivers over Mike D'Antoni the right call for Sixers? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Should Mike D’Antoni have gotten the nod over Doc Rivers as Sixers head coach?
NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh thinks so, and the crux of his argument makes sense.
“Hiring D’Antoni would have prompted a necessary cleanse,” Haberstroh writes. “It would have signaled a clear-eyed understanding from Sixers general manager Elton Brand and the front office that this team needs shooting, shooting and more shooting to maximize superstars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. D’Antoni’s biggest knock is that he’s no defensive mastermind, but when a team has defensive stalwarts like Simmons and Embiid, that side of the ball would take care of itself.”
That’s a fair point. With the Sixers’ front office uncertainty and the costly miscues of last offseason, the team appears to lack meaningful direction. If the ultimate result of Rivers’ hire is latching onto a big name and using his presence to brush aside major concerns about the roster and the organization as a whole, it’d be a big problem.
The folks running the show for the Sixers haven’t yet proven themselves capable of making smart calls on these franchise-shifting decisions. Brand admitted in August that he “didn’t know a lot” when he took the general manager reins from Brett Brown, who served as interim GM after Bryan Colangelo’s surreal and scandalous departure. He also said the “collaboration days didn’t work too well,” and that he’d be leading the coaching search. Managing partner Josh Harris had previously touted the Sixers’ “consensus-oriented” philosophy, an approach that ultimately led to him hiring the inexperienced Brand.
In short, this front office, still intact after assembling a team that got swept in the first round of the playoffs, does not deserve much benefit of the doubt.
Haberstroh also posits that D’Antoni would’ve been more qualified than Rivers to improve the Sixers’ offense, which finished the season 14th in offensive rating. D’Antoni’s Rockets led the NBA in three-point attempts for four straight seasons and were a top-six offense each year; he's revered as an offensive innovator. As Haberstroh notes, though, Rivers’ Lob City Clippers were No. 1 in offensive rating in the 2013-14 and ’14-’15 seasons, and this year’s team ranked No. 2. Rivers isn't clueless offensively, even if our latest memory of him is the Clippers' second-round collapse to the Nuggets.
In February, Rivers compared the Joel Embiid-Ben Simmons dynamic to Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Does that suggest Rivers will let Simmons roam free as a point guard and make plays as he sees fit? Will he revisit some of the success Brown had using Simmons in actions at the elbow and as a screener and roller? Will Simmons take more jumpers under Rivers?
There aren’t predictable answers to any of those questions, though Haberstroh thinks D’Antoni would’ve been “the best chance to get Simmons to start shooting the basketball” because of his Seven Seconds or Less background. It's a theory we can't test.
Rivers’ résumé indicates he could make the Sixers better in a few areas, and the same thing could've been said of D’Antoni’s. We’ll all obviously be able to judge the hire years down the line.
We should have a clearer sense in a few months, too. If the Sixers’ other moves convey that Rivers’ hiring ended up being an excuse to avoid fundamental changes, then there will be more ammunition to doubt the team's decision.