Doc Rivers sounded more shattered than ever on Wednesday as he defended his history as coaching teams that have flared up after taking resounding leads in past playoff series. His voice usually cracks, but as he defended himself against criticism of his numerous shortcomings, he sounded more like a First Take guest debater shrieking about “choking” and “clutch genes” than a calm, composed coach who was 3 :2 over the Toronto Raptors won a first-round series.
As Rivers writhes over painful memories like a friend being reminded of all the times he forgot anniversaries, the disdainful eyes of 76ers fans should start to wander. Rivers is a good coach just like Alex Smith was a good quarterback or Mark Jackson was a good coach.
With the clock hitting the postseason, Doc was Doctor Death as his teams faced adversity. His teams fall apart. Of the 13 teams that went 3-1 up, Rivers coached three of them. He was vocal in defending his 8-seed Orlando Magic, which lost a 3-1 lead, but his worst self-inflicted wound was Rivers’ failure to finalize the deal with Tim Duncan by refusing to admit family in the crew plane. His 2015 Clippers roster was suplexed by Josh Smith iBlown out in Game 6, then Games 5 and 7. The 2020 Clippers seemed disinterested after taking a 3-1 lead against the Denver Nuggets. If his team slips on another banana peel and cracks their skulls, Rivers won’t be able to stand on the sidelines again.
Last week, Jay Wright resigned after 21 years at the helm of Villanova, waving a new age for college hoops. The keyword is college hoops. Wright spoke of missing the same fire he once had as head of Villanova at his retirement press conference. Wright, who I assume follows the 76ers, announced that he is keeping his eyes and ears open for any advances.
During an appearance on the ESPN show Keyshawn, JWill & Max, Wright admitted the next level is on the horizon. “I’d be lying” if he said he hadn’t considered training in the NBA. “Not now. That’s always been on my mind,” Wright said of his NBA aspirations. “My experience with the Olympics kind of scratched that itch. … I feel like I did a little bit. And I loved.” it to coach these guys.”
Jay Wright has been a candidate for every opening in Philadelphia since he was born Applied for the position in 2009. Jay Wright is the underhanded member of the 76’s. He always stays in the background. Not in a scary way, but it’s a small world and they keep bumping into each other. The 76ers hit the gym, got their teeth fixed, and spent a decade building their brand. Wright would be insane if he didn’t take another look at them, or at least send a smoke signal to the current possession of the 76s.
He sounds like he still has tires in his bone marrow. Obviously taking a chance on a college coach is a risk. Aside from their shared love of pinstripe suits, Wright isn’t an archetype of John Calipari, relying on Rah-Rah College’s enthusiasm and recruitment to excel. He has won twice as many national championships as Calipari while developing a number of fringe draft candidates and occasionally playing mid-first-round.
In 2014, Billy Donovan made the leap from Florida to Oklahoma City and is now strained with the Chicago Bulls. Wright’s already down the road. Villanova is only 28 minutes from the Wells Fargo Center. Wright, a Pennsylvania native, played at Bucknell, joined Villanova as an assistant two years into their legendary title run, then followed Rollie Massimino to UNLV and oversaw Hofstra’s program for seven years before returning to Nova.
Most importantly, the 76ers may need him to come in and give the 76ers the momentum they currently lack. Psychologically, he’s a zen master for a team that always seems nervous and weighed down by expectations instead of having fun on the floor. Offensively, Wright could mend the broken rotations and put fresher creases on offense than the vanilla sets Doc Rivers drives for Embiid and Harden. Wright’s Nova teams were the collegiate facsimile of the Kerr-era Warriors teams, while Rivers still rides the winning footsteps of an era that feels like a millennium ago.
After all the heightened expectations the Harden trade brought to Philly’s season, a first-round or second-round loss nearly a decade into The Process wouldn’t cut it. That would be like serving up a dead cockroach to the health inspector so far. The entire operation would be shut down, and the pressures of that reality are obviously affecting Rivers.
Of course, much of this is akin to doing an autopsy on a drunk who has just fallen asleep on a platter. Maybe Doc will find his team’s pulse. In the long Process saga, this is perhaps where the dark comedy Philadelphia 76ers stray from their path and walk away triumphant. However, this kind of positive blind faith is not what Philadelphia is known for. Wright is not only one of the most successful coaches, but also the most emotionally intelligent coach in basketball. The Sixers and the fanbase could use that kind of emotional lift. Until then, they’ll have to endure another painful postseason.