3 takeaways from Daryl Morey’s press conference after Doc Rivers firing originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Daryl Morey did not always speak in direct language Wednesday about the work ahead.
But in describing the process that led to Doc Rivers being fired as the team’s head coach, Morey was clear.
“It’s my job to evaluate everything,” Morey said, “and we felt like that was the best move for helping us get to our goals going forward.
“It was carefully thought out and I recommended it to ownership, and they accepted it.”
Outside of Morey’s comments on James Harden — the Sixers’ president of basketball operations said the team’s “Scenario A” is to retain the 33-year-old guard — here are three takeaways on Wednesday’s press conference:
The experience factor
In any coaching search, many variables merit consideration.
Morey was asked specifically about prior NBA head coaching experience. Though he didn’t rule out a first-time head coach — Sixers assistant Sam Cassell would meet that description — Morey indicated he’d generally view experience as a plus.
“I wouldn’t say a requirement,” he said. “I think when you get into requirements, you miss opportunities. But I will say we have a roster ready to win. Obviously, we’ve been very successful — came up just short of our goals. I think we have an MVP-level player. And I do think, if you look at the history of the NBA, it’s challenging to walk into that as a first-time NBA head coach.
“That doesn’t mean it hasn’t worked. For every rule, there are solid counterexamples. So we’re not going to go in with a prescription or proscription, but we’re looking for someone who brings leadership and accountability; someone who is good at tactics; someone who has great relationships with his star players; someone who’s good at recruiting star players and that players want to play for; someone who builds a great organization.
“I 100 percent believe we had that with Coach Rivers … but those are the kinds of criteria we looked at. Those are the kinds of criteria that led to hiring Doc, and we’re going to work hard to find someone who hits all those marks again.”
Morey later added that he feels the tactical side “tends to get overvalued” and that “it ends up being a much smaller part of the game than people expect relative to working with your star players, recruiting star players, things like that.”
As for the free-agent coaches out there, Nick Nurse, Frank Vogel and Mike Budenholzer have NBA titles on their résumés. Budenholzer’s Bucks beat Monty Williams’ Suns in the NBA Finals two years ago.
“The available coaches are very strong,” Morey said, “and that’s why we’re encouraged by the ones that have reached out to us already. … Recent championships, it’s a factor. It’s a factor.
“Definitely not a litmus test, but all else equal, I do think that can lend a lot of credibility with players. ‘Hey, I just did this.’ I think that matters, and it’s why adding a P.J. Tucker last year is also a positive. ‘Hey, when I just did this with Milwaukee, these were some of the key elements.’ And I know that gave him a lot of voice in the locker room.”
Embiid ‘shocked’ by the firing
Morey said Joel Embiid and Harden won’t have “direct input” on the Sixers’ coaching hire, though “you want to look for a coach that is a fit with how we want to play and the players we have.”
Morey’s decision may be rather telling on this topic. While Mike D’Antoni of course has many credentials besides having coached Harden, we imagine that if the Sixers hired the 72-year-old offensive innovator, they would cite that duo’s history as a source of optimism.
Regardless, Morey has long seen stars as extremely important in the NBA. On Wednesday, he admitted that the Sixers’ biggest star, Embiid, did not endorse Rivers’ dismissal.
Embiid said he thought Rivers had done a “fantastic job” and “should be fine” after the Sixers’ Game 7 loss to the Celtics.
“They had a strong relationship,” Morey said. “I have to make tough calls all the time with trades. Joel was disappointed, and some of it is he didn’t know the player we were getting in the trade, who ended up helping us, but he was disappointed in the players that went out. I think it’s natural to be very close with the people in the locker room. He was very close with Coach Rivers and yeah, he was shocked about the change. It’s my job to help convince him that the new coach is someone he’ll have a great relationship with as well.”
Morey had another interesting Embiid-related answer when asked about why the six-time All-Star’s efficiency has dipped in the second round of the playoffs.
Injuries have regularly impacted Embiid, who played through a right knee sprain this postseason, but his 5-for-18 shooting performance in Game 7 was not nearly good enough. Overall, Embiid averaged 25.5 points and 9.0 rebounds in the Celtics series. He shot 42.1 percent from the floor and 20 percent from three-point range.
“That was a big conversation with Joel — again, led by Joel, to his credit,” Morey said. “Working through, ‘Hey, how can I make sure I can still get to my spots? How can I make sure that when they’re trying to take this away, I have a counter?’
“Look, it’s something that … we need to do a better job of during the season. The regular season can often be a Wednesday against a bad team, and Joel’s so good that he can just dominate a game without them doing a lot of keying. That’s why I thought a lot of reps against a Toronto or a Brooklyn this year were good. They were guarding him with heavy double teams and different looks.
“We want to try to make sure that we get him those similar kinds of high-intensity defensive looks during the regular season and have that be something he’s more comfortable in as we get into the playoffs. So I think that’s a big priority to continue to give him rep after rep so he can work on it in the offseason and during the season … so he’s ready for the really, really focused defenses that he faces in the playoffs.”
Where exactly is improvement required?
At this time last year, the Sixers seemed to have a clear sense of what went wrong in the postseason and how they could fix it.
Both Morey and Rivers wanted to enhance the Sixers’ toughness, pick up two-way players, and have a team better equipped to conquer playoff-specific challenges.
“I do think we addressed a lot of those questions. … I do think a lot of progress has been made, and we need to keep making progress to get further,” Morey said Wednesday.
Heading into this offseason, does Morey have a similar grasp on why the Sixers fell short and where they must improve this summer?
“Besides the coaching search, we go through a pretty careful process with the front office on what needs to be done,” he said. “We haven’t gone through that yet. We will figure that out going forward. But yeah, last year I think was a little more straightforward, especially the two-way player part. The toughness part I thought was real … but sometimes that’s used just if you win or lose. I think two-way players was a little more clear, and I think we did address a lot of that. We still have a lot of things to improve, though, and so we’ll have to.
“We do have some normal improvements that are coming this year, though. (Tyrese) Maxey we think has a real shot to be one of the top players in the league. He is absolutely committed to putting the work in, as we know, so I think that’s an area that’s pretty exciting.
“And then Joel Embiid, as you’ve seen, I wouldn’t bet against him improving again. He’s done it every year since I’ve been here. … His health is improving and his game is improving. And again, a lot of the conversation with Joel was him immediately being like, ‘Hey, I can do more. I can work on this. I’m watching the playoffs and I’m looking at this guy; I can add that to my game.’ I wouldn’t bet against him.”