With Billy Donovan off the market (he’s headed to the Windy City), for the past two weeks, all signs have pointed toward Mike D’Antoni replacing Brett Brown as the 76ers’ new head coach. Though the ex-Rockets coach would be an odd fit schematically—his offenses are predicated on three-point shooting, not one of Philadelphia’s strengths—D’Antoni’s ties to superstar James Harden have some Sixers fans intrigued. However, now that Doc Rivers—who was surprisingly let go by the Clippers earlier this week—is available, the Sixers may have a new frontrunner in their coaching search.
According to Marc Spears of The Undefeated, Philadelphia brass has already reached out to Rivers, a former NBA champ with the Boston Celtics and the 11th winningest coach in league history. It’s unclear whether that interest is mutual, or even if Rivers plans on coaching in 2021, but if the answer is yes to both, Doc should have been hired yesterday. ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith, who first came to national prominence as a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer (where he covered the Sixers for the better part of two decades), wouldn’t walk to hire Rivers—he’d sprint.
“I don’t want to hear a damn word about D’Antoni being the next head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers,” said Stephen A during his appearance Tuesday on ESPN’s Get Up. “You want a new coach, you call Doc Rivers. There’s no way in hell that Mike D’Antoni—I’m not saying he shouldn’t be a head coach—but New York, L.A., Phoenix, Houston … the man ain’t never been to a Finals. You don’t sit up there and pass up Doc Rivers to get D’Antoni, who is allergic to defense and is allergic to anybody that doesn’t shoot threes.”
Rivers would be a splashy hire for the 76ers and a sizable improvement on Brown, who shepherded the Sixers through their “Process” years but couldn’t cut it once expectations grew. Of course, Philadelphia is far from alone in its pursuit of Doc, who is reportedly on the Pelicans’ radar and could also be of interest to the Pacers, Rockets and Thunder. Houston in particular would be an intriguing destination for Rivers, whose son Austin was a key contributor for the Rockets in 2020 (8.8 points per game in 68 regular-season appearances).
As for the Clippers, assistant coach Tyronn Lue, who won a title as LeBron James’ head coach in Cleveland years earlier, has emerged as the clear favorite to succeed Rivers in Los Angeles. “He’s the guy that the players want there,” said Smith of Lue, who has also been linked to the opening in Philadelphia. “Ty Lue has incredible relationships around the league with SEVERAL players who could help the Clippers. Stay tuned.”