The day after getting eliminated by the Miami Heat in Game 6 of their second-round series, the Sixers held exit interviews on Friday at the practice facility in Camden. Speaking with the media were the players who didn’t have a news conference after the game, as well as Daryl Morey and Doc Rivers.
The Sixers have a full offseason ahead of them, so there is only so much ground that can be covered on the first day as the playoffs continue without the Sixers. Emotionally, a dispiriting elimination is still quite fresh the day after the season ends.
We will have much more in the coming weeks, but nevertheless, here are five storylines from exit interviews that stood out.
Morey says Rivers will stay
The question was simple, and it was posed to team president Daryl Morey: Will Doc Rivers be the coach of the Sixers next season?
“Yes,” said Morey, who was sitting next to Rivers.
There has been plenty of speculation about whether Rivers might leave Philadelphia and take another high-profile job (the Los Angeles Lakers) in a city he lived in for eight years prior to moving to the Delaware Valley in 2020. But the one thing getting in the way of all that speculation is that, as of now, Rivers is under contract for three more seasons. He has an obligation to work for the Sixers, as long as they want him.
“I just think he’s a great coach,” Morey said. “I love working with him, I feel like I’m learning from him. I think Elton (Brand) and I and him make a great team. And we’re going to see where this journey takes us, but we feel very good about where it’s going to take us and it’s going to be where we have a very good chance to win the title.”
Rivers has defended himself vehemently over this season, as he did after the Sixers’ Game 6 loss.
“I don’t worry about my job,” Rivers said. “I think I do a terrific job, and if you don’t, you should write it because I worked my butt off to get this team here. When I first got here, no one picked us to be anywhere. And then this year, the same thing.”
While there is truth to what Rivers said — the Sixers were coming off a disastrous 2019-20 season and had the Ben Simmons drama hanging over them this season — there was a core group of players led by Joel Embiid. And the Sixers haven’t advanced deeper into the playoffs than they did before Rivers got here, but the same can also be said for Morey.
Rivers also probably shares less responsibility for the Sixers’ playoff loss this season as opposed to blowing a golden opportunity in 2021 against an Atlanta team they had more experience and talent than. This season, a better team broke the Sixers’ will. Rivers did not underachieve with this group this season, particularly once Embiid was injured in the playoffs (Rivers has a complicated role in that we can discuss for days). He got this group as far as it probably should have gone.
Morey did not hire Rivers, who came here a short time before him in a frenzied 2020 offseason. And Rivers was once traded while he was under contract, from a rebuilding Boston team to the Clippers. But Morey is now on record saying Rivers will return as the coach for 2022-23.
Harden contract discussion begins
For the Sixers heading into the offseason, there are two obvious hot-button issues. And as important as the coach is, the contractual status of James Harden is the most crucial. Harden’s inconsistent play over the last two and a half months culminated with a complete no-show in the Sixers’ only elimination game.
That isn’t a hot take either. Harden took two field-goal attempts in the second half Thursday and deferred to the likes of Shake Milton. Unfortunately for the Sixers, there is no getting around that type of performance from this season’s major trade acquisition.
After Game 6, Harden said he would be in Philadelphia next season. That is probably a safe bet, considering Harden has the power to opt-in for $47 million in 2022-23. And the better question is under what terms that will happen.
“We’re excited about what he can bring,” Morey said of Harden. “Obviously to (Rivers’) point, a lot of this came together pretty late. A full offseason, a full training camp, a full time where everyone can learn to unlock how good everyone can be together (could help). That said, I don’t want to minimize, there was a lot of good. Joel, James, Tobias, Maxey, that group played very well together. We can play even better. So, we’re excited what that can look like in the future.”
On multiple occasions, Morey brought up the context Harden will play within improving next season. The bench can improve, as losing Seth Curry and Andre Drummond hurt the Sixers’ depth when they were included in the trade. The value of time, specifically a full training camp and season to work out the offensive kinks, might help as well. But the reason the Sixers traded for Harden is that his talent needs to override any contextual problems.
This version of Harden could not score with the ease that he did in his prime, simply because his burst was not what it used to be.
“That’s the plan, is to have him back; that’s been the plan since the trade,” Morey said. “Obviously, we have to work with his representation, and that’ll be between us to figure that out, how that works.”
The Sixers can’t give Harden a $270 million maximum contract with the way he played the past few months. Is there a compromise contract like the one Chris Paul signed this past offseason? Or could this go another direction? Morey largely kicked the can down the road with the Simmons standoff last offseason, and his reward is a potentially uncomfortable negotiation with the single player his career is most associated with.
Green tears ACL, LCL
Less than 24 hours after Embiid accidentally took him out, Danny Green walked up to the podium on crutches. At that point, still awaiting the results of his MRI, Green was still hoping his injury wasn’t as bad as it initially looked. But that MRI revealed the news that Green tore both the ACL and LCL in his left knee. That means surgery and lengthy recovery for Green.
The timing of it is, in a word, brutal. Green had been dealing with nagging injuries all season before finally settling into a role come playoff time. When asked if it was the most challenging season of his 13-year career, Green immediately responded, “By sure, by far.”
“I probably had more injuries this year than I’ve had in my career total combined,” Green said. “Going from starting to not starting, playing less minutes. The injuries alone were more frustrating than anything. This is two years in a row now being in the postseason where an injury happens where I believe I can help my team to where we can get to that next level and we come up short and I’m watching from the sidelines. It’s never great.”
Green indicated that he never had an injury of this level during his successful NBA career. His 62 games played this season were the fewest for him since becoming a full-time NBA player in 2011-12.
For both Green and the Sixers, this is a major blow. Green proved in these playoffs that unlike some of the Sixers’ specialists (Matisse Thybulle, Georges Niang), it’s easier for him to stay on the floor when it really matters. Green is not the type of defender he was during his prime in San Antonio, but he does just enough on both ends to help the Sixers win.
Green’s contract is completely non-guaranteed for next season at $10 million. When the Sixers have talked about toughness over the last few days, they certainly could still use him. But Green is also not healthy and facing a long rehab. The Sixers have until July 1st to make that decision on Green’s contract.
“We’re just mostly focused on Danny right now,” Morey said.
Maxey looking to build off great season
Tyrese Maxey likes his catchphrases and acronyms: “One percent better every day” and, “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.”
And he had a new one after Game 6: NGE, Not Good Enough.
“I just wasn’t good enough, and I think I’ll take that on the chin and use that as motivation the entire summer,” Maxey said.
Rivers got choked up talking about Maxey, who took a huge step forward this season. He also joked that Maxey is already starting his offseason plans, which might benefit from a week or two off.
“Tyrese in my opinion has a chance to be a special kid,” Rivers said. “I’m sitting at home last night at 1 in the morning, and the phone rings and it’s him.”
With all the major question marks the Sixers have moving forward (and to be clear, there are a bunch of them), that they hit on a player with the 21st pick who still has major room to grow at just 21 years old is a big deal. Along with Embiid maintaining an MVP level, Maxey’s development is the Sixers’ biggest win of the season.
Embiid’s involvement in roster building
On the one hand, Embiid says his job is to be a player and not an executive. But he also has been quick to point out some of the many roster-building mistakes the Sixers front office has made during his tenure, like with his friend Jimmy Butler.
Embiid has the stature of a player whose voice has to be heard. As we saw early in the Miami series, he is the foundation of everything the Sixers do. And Morey spoke about that dynamic Friday.
“I think the best teams are having constant dialogue with their players, I think Doc does a great job with that,” Morey said. “I think Joel has a very, I’d say appropriate, amount of — he asks questions, he wants to understand the plan because he wants to go execute it. And he has a lot of faith in what’s happening.”
He added: “I think it’s much easier to execute a plan as a player when you feel like you’re having that dialogue, and that’s how it’s been.”
(Photo: Bill Streicher / USA Today)