Doc Rivers, Simmons and Embiid: the last chance of the Process

The dysfunctional couple meet with a reputed coach who, however, has just failed for the umpteenth time in the playoffs. The Process is at stake.


A new era begins in Philadelphia. A project within a project that is presented as a last bullet to fix those promises so far unfulfilled and demonstrate what the Process has never shown: that it can end in a ring. Not that he is going to do it, something always difficult in an NBA that does not wait for anyone nor has it expected them. Simply, that they show themselves as a competitive team that can become an aspirant and qualify for an elusive championship for the franchise since 1983, when Julius Erving and Moses Malone, fo, fo, fo, by, made a historic playoffs and lifted the third twisted in their long history, the second since they moved from Suyracuse and Philadelphia and adopted a nomenclature they have never lost. Since then, the 2001 Finals, with Iverson at the helm, were the top of a team that is part of a city that understands basketball, but has gotten tired of waiting for those predictions that seem distant and that will be tried to recover after the departure of Brett Brown from the franchise after seven long years at the helm and the realization that a change in the bench was as urgent as necessary.

Finally, Elton Brand and the senior staff of the board, who remain in their positions despite their questionable management, have chosen not to touch their two stars and give the project one last chance with a new technician. The arrival of Doc Rivers, out of the Clippers' back door, is a breath of fresh air for both the team and the coach. Rivers and his two new stars have been vilified for the year of the coronavirus, and they need to vindicate themselves in a countdown that begins with a manager whose reputation hangs by a thread after his umpteenth playoff failure and two players who have undeniable talent but a manifest impossibility. (so far) of getting involved on the track, thanks to the collapsed areas that have represented an eternal problem in the last year in which, between injuries and tactical catastrophes, they have hit bottom: sixth in the East, below 60% of victories (43-30) for the first time in three years and with an elimination in the first round that has meant a brake after two consecutive semifinals and that, as the season has gone, has only confirmed that Brown's stage did not gave for more and that the prevailing need for change was absolutely manifest.

Is Doc Rivers the solution?

He may be in the short term, but doubts are beginning to assail the coach about his reliability in the playoffs. Against the Nuggets, he blew a 3-1 lead for the third time in his career, more than anyone else in the playoffs, as well as being the coach who has lost the most in a game 7 in history, with eight in total. With the Clippers he also fell when he had that advantage in 2015, against the Rockets, in addition to doing the same in 2003, when the best-of-seven format was established in the first round and led the Magic of Tracy McGrady, who lost to the Pistons Eastern finalists that year. The 3-1 has been rallied 13 times in playoff history and on three occasions the victim has been Rivers, who also squandered 3-2 leads in, for example, the 2012 Eastern Finals (against LeBron's Heat ) or the 2010 NBA Finals (against the Lakers). In addition, he has lost 27 times in matches that qualified his team for the next round, the same as Pat Riley. The difference is that Riley is 40-27 in these games and Rivers ... 14-27. And that's not to mention that Frank Vogel has won the same playoff ties this year with the Lakers as Doc in seven years with his Los Angeles counterpart.

Now, Doc Rivers' reputation goes beyond mere results. A good guy, his connection with the players has always been his greatest strength, and he can help solve the Sixers' wounded chemistry problems. Assigning specific roles and finding tactical solutions to the lack of compatibility between the two stars can be one of the weapons you have in your favor. Likewise, his influence was clear on the Clippers, where he had 57, 56, 53 and 51 wins in his opening four seasons. And he knows how to infuse his squads with competitiveness, as seen in that first round last year, in which he stole two victories from the Warriors. He also created a culture in a franchise devoid of it, emerging the sports side of the Donald Sterling scandal and putting the Clippers on the map. All this is part of his legacy there, no matter how much he is reproached for not having passed the semifinals with that team made up of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan ... or with Kawhi or Paul George, of course. The latter, in a course in which he has had to give in to a load management that he was not used to (he has trained no less than Kevin Garnett, in the antipodes of that idea) and that has ended up eating him in a playoffs in the that the group chemistry inherent to their teams has been conspicuous by its absence in a year with an unfortunate end.

We also can't forget that Doc Rivers won the Coach of the Year award in his rookie season on the bench, 1999-00. And that he put the Magic in three consecutive playoffs from 2001 to 2003 despite Grant Hill's constant injuries and blowing up even McGrady who reached his climax as a player under his command. Nor that he is NBA champion, of course, in 2008 and in a playoffs in the Celtics they won the first and second rounds to seven games and the next two to six, after achieving 66 victories in the regular season, knowing how to support their assistants (Tom Thibodeau, his defensive coach at the time) and always having the approval of his players, who kept the team in contention until 2012 after managing to give Boston its first championship in 22 years. One of lime and one of sand for a technician who improves his teams but who has not hit the key in the final phase during his career, beyond that ring of 2008, the brightest part of a very good coach's resume valued, as evidenced by the short time he has lasted out of work after his departure, by mutual agreement or not, of some Clippers whose end of the season did not like the former owner of Microsoft and boss of the franchise, Steve Ballmer.

Little room for maneuver beyond the stars

Now, as much as Doc Rivers can do, it's no secret that the Sixers' problem is also structural. Tobias Harris has 180 million guaranteed until 2024, Joel Embiid, 122 until 2023, Ben Simmons, 177 until 2025, and Al Horford, 97 until 2023. This last contract was what nobody understood, signing a player who had been a breakdown of head in the Celtics but that did not solve anything for them in that populated area where he started as a starter, ended up as a substitute and now, nobody knows what to do with him. On the way to 35 years, it is a piece that can hardly be transferred, and will have to find its place in a game scheme while many lament the hiring that Harris charges and that, for many, should have been for a Jimmy Butler who was anything but a problem. The guard wanted to set course for new horizons and is now playing his first Finals, but many reproach Elton Brand and company for not having made more efforts to retain a man who was the soul of the dressing room and who gave a point of competitiveness than Embiid and they really miss Simmons. The pivot, by the way, has notably decreased his statistics compared to last year, while Simmons maintains them while continuing to show off his endless shooting problems.

The Sixers have some margin, but the improvement must be noticed quickly if they do not want to make more hasty decisions. At 26 and 24, Simmons and Embiid are the cornerstones of the project, but also the ones that could be transferred to personalize the attack and stop having tactical problems that for Brett Brown have been unsolvable. It will be more difficult to find a way out for Tobias, although releasing any of these contracts would give the opportunity to sign shooters who were with Reddick or Bellinelli but who escaped with a long-awaited Butler. Doc Rivers joins the dynamic duo to search for a miracle and justify that Trust The Process, now meaningless. The Sixers are facing, perhaps, one last chance to take a step forward with Embiid and Simmons and not have to resort to a transfer that revolutionizes the squad and involves making a complicated decision, setting the course for an already different project and with a single star that does not get in the way of the other. For now, a new coach and new perspectives. The rest, we'll see.

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