Three Replacements For Doc Rivers as Sixers Head Coach

Doc Rivers
Doc Rivers / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

The Philadelphia 76ers have fallen short in the postseason yet again. In the process, Doc Rivers blew a series lead in the playoffs yet again. Joel Embiid failed to make it out of the second round yet again. James Harden came up small when his team needed him most... yet again. You get the picture. Last night's Game 7 loss to Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics was a familiar set of failures for the franchise and its centerpieces.

The question now becomes who will take the fall this time around. With no significant injuries suffered to any important players or any questionable calls that swung games, there are no excuses for Philly. Somebody is going to get blamed for failing to take the best Sixers team in years past the second round, and as you can probably surmise from the title of this blog post our guess is that it'll be Rivers.

Rivers was actually okay by his standards against the Celtics, making some good early-series adjustments that earned Philly a 3-2 lead and a chance to win Game 6 at home. However, the man notorious for blowing playoff leads blew another playoff lead and bowed out in extremely disappointing fashion for the third consecutive season. While Rivers' successful efforts to turn Philly into a great regular-season team might give executives pause when thinking about who to scapegoat for this season, what are the other options? Embiid just won MVP and is not going anywhere. Daryl Morey loves Harden and will not push him out the door while pinning the blame on him like he did Ben Simmons.

Rivers seems to be the most likely fall guy, fair or not. If Philadelphia does decide to move on, here are a few possible replacements for the head coach.

Nick Nurse

If the Sixers feel they need a more tactical mind in charge given that Rivers is not exactly known for that part of coaching, Nurse would be perfect. They've spent the last few seasons watching Nurse coach the Raptors' defense to junk up Philly's offense and stifle Embiid in ways few other teams managed to do on a regular basis. What happened with Nurse and Toronto at the end of this past season was a little weird and the Sixers should do some investigating there, but if it all comes back clean then it feels like a good match.

The downsides here are twofold. One, Nurse never managed to scheme up a league-average offense once Kawhi Leonard left. His personnel left a lot to be desired on that front but the fact remains. Two, Nurse has a troubling tendency to play the guys he trusts a lot of minutes to win games that do not really matter. Whoever the Sixers hire will be under strict instructions to not run Embiid into the ground and Nurse might have trouble there.

Monty Williams

Williams was rather suddenly ousted as the Suns' head coach last week and will be a hot target in the free agent coaching market. He doesn't have the same reputation for schemes like Nurse but seems to be a great motivator and player's coach, which may be what the Sixers need given Embiid and Harden's career-long habits of no-showing for big games. He spent a year on the sideline with the team in 2018. There is a lot to like.

The flip side is that Williams' tenure in Phoenix came to an extremely ugly end between the two consecutive Game 7 blowouts and a shockingly public beef with a star player. That sort of counterbalances the fact that Williams was the driving force behind a stunning Finals run by the woe-is-me Suns in 2020-21. He'll definitely be an option. Whether he's the right one will be determined by the amount of behind-the-scenes sniffing around the Sixers do.

Mike Budenholzer

Team featuring superstar big man consistently underperforms in the postseason? This is a job for Mike Budenholzer. The book is pretty much out on Budenholzer at this point. He is a tremendous regular-season coach who struggles in the playoffs because he is very slow to alter the scheme that drives his team to many wins from October to April. While that may just sound like an upgraded version of Doc Rivers to Sixers fans, there are two factors that would motivate the Sixers to make this hire.

Budenholzer is very good (too good, even) at limiting the minutes of his best players. Giannis Antetokounmpo was unleashed as a postseason Lovecraftian horror because Budenholzer made sure his minutes stayed in the low 30s for almost the entire season. That would be very good for Embiid, whose only big flaw is that he gets tired easily. And, perhaps more importantly given the inflexibility of the roster right now in Philly, Budenholzer's scheme maximizes role players. Guys like Grayson Allen and Bobby Portis didn't do anything of note before joining Budenholzer in Milwaukee. Bringing him aboard would be great for Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris and the other low-cost guys the Sixers need to rely on if they stick with the Harden-Embiid core. A safe option that comes with downside, but Budenholzer won a championship so whatever he does works to an extent.