Philadelphia 76ers assistant coach Dave Joerger at a team practice walking on the basketball court in front of a step and repeat banner featuring the 76ers logo
Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

76ers' Assistant Coach Dave Joerger Talks Offseason, Giving Back, and Returning to the Bench

Nobody deserved a relaxing offseason more than 76ers Assistant Coach Dave Joerger.

After battling head and neck cancer during the 2021-22 NBA season - and returning to the bench for the season’s final stretch - the veteran coach could have taken a hard-earned trip off the grid.

Instead, he’s spending his time giving back, in multiple communities across the country.

Joerger says he likes to use the offseason for four goals: relaxation, player development, ideation among coaches, and making a positive impact in his communities.

“The mindset is always, ‘How can I help?’ You see it with Tyrese [Maxey] and some of the other guys: How can we help more people have experiences that they might not otherwise have, by providing the resources?”

- 76ers Assistant Coach Dave Joerger

Ahead of one of Joerger’s favorite summer events, a basketball camp on the Standing Rock Reservation in Northern South Dakota and Southern North Dakota, the now third-year Sixers Assistant Coach sat down with to discuss his offseason initiatives and more.

At the start of the conversation, Joerger shared a personal update…

“Things are really good for the Sixers, and for me as well. As far as personally, things that have gone on with recovering from cancer treatment. It is a process. You never feel like you’re fully healed or done with it. It’s always going to be part of your story and part of what you’re going to go through physically and mentally going forward. And your family has to live with it as well, but we feel very positive about it because of getting to it early. Identifying what the problem was early and then going to the treatment immediately. So we feel very positive going forward, to be and live a full life.”

After leaving the team last Nov. 13 to undergo cancer treatment, Joerger returned to the bench on a full-time basis on Feb. 2. Head Coach Doc Rivers said it was really cool to watch their players react to the good news. Now, Joerger looks forward to another season surrounded by his Sixers family…

“That was neat. Any impact I had on the team, it was a thousand times [less than] the impact they had on me. Being around the guys, being around the coaches – both the players and the coaching staff are way more than a working professional relationship. We’re all friends. You’re pulling for each other. Your families know each other and your families are trying to help each other all the time. We’re around each other more than we are sometimes with our own families, so it’s its own family. That was very invigorating for me… and then, certainly the competition and being able to be part of another successful season. And now, as you flow into the upcoming season and the excitement that we have going into that, there’s just such a good vibe. We have a great group of players, as people. And the same with the coaches, as people. You want to be around them. So now, with the success we’ve had and the success we feel like we can have going forward, it’s a very positive vibe because everybody’s all pulling in the same direction.”

The assistant coach then touched on the Sixers’ offseason…

“It’s pretty crazy. Things go fast,” Joerger said. “Before you even get to the [roster] changes, I think you get to the fact that James Harden, Joel Embiid, and other guys did not have a lot of time together. Our core has had two years together – Tyrese [Maxey], Tobias [Harris] – and Joel and Tobias have been together for a number of years, we get that. But to add a guy who has the ball as much as James does, especially with Joel, that’s only going to get better as more time is spent together. I think that’s really going to be a positive for us to be able to have a training camp and to go into a full regular season together. That’s a process and a journey that they’ll continue, because they’re great players, to get better at. And then you add the development of our younger players. They’re going to continue to get older. Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, etcetera, etcetera – I don’t want to miss anybody. We sometimes kind of glean over Tyrese because he’s so prominent, but he’s had a great summer. We know this.

“There’s that development and that improvement from within, and now you add the other players: De’Anthony Melton, P.J. Tucker, Danuel House. What it does is it gives us a lot of flexibility. Those guys can all play multiple positions. They can play with the basketball, they can play without the basketball, and they can all defend their own position very well, as well as other positions. And they’re good dudes, too. Let’s not let that go. They’re good people we’re adding to the mix. It gives us a lot of depth. And some would say the other side of it is you have more margin for error. Injuries are part of the process of an NBA season. To have that continuity where you kind of don’t miss a beat when somebody has to be out for X number of games or a period of time – and also the fact that especially P.J. has been around the block. He’s got veteran–ness to him, he’s got experience to him, and he’s vocal. I think that’s really going to help our locker room. It’s going to help our team continue to grow through the journey of the season.”

Joerger elaborated on Tucker’s leadership, and toughness as an identity for the team…

“I think what they’re expressing is ‘part of me wants to be like this, but I need somebody to go first.’ I think that’s what P.J. Tucker is going to really [do]. You’re going to see guys now come a little bit out of their shell with their personality – not outside of themselves, but that part of it can come out a little bit more as somebody is kind of out there in front. Now we have a catalyst for that and a leader in that area, and I think you’ll see guys’ toughness come out a little bit more than it has in the past.”

When it comes to making an impact in various different communities, Joerger’s basketball camp on the Standing Rock Reservation in the Dakotas is important to him for a number of reasons…

“It’s important to me because I think, as a league, we do a lot of good things and I think we try to help some of the more underserved places in our country. [Among] those that sometimes I think gets overlooked a little bit are the reservations, and some of the poorest counties that we have economically in our country are on the reservation. The issues that some of these kids deal with – the suicide rates, the alcoholism rates, and those kinds of things that they grow up with – I’m able to maybe have a chance to have an impact or to show them something… It’s not about getting out, but it’s rising to in their future maybe I want to be part of this, that, or the other experience that maybe I never even got to see in my mind. For us to do those kinds of things, as some of the players do with their camps, that’s what we’re trying to do and I’m trying to serve at this camp.”

Last spring, the 76ers organization made a donation to Jefferson Health following Joerger’s treatment…

“You have what has happened to me lately and my experience with cancer, and the idea of how can I help? If I can use my platform to get it out that early detection makes a difference – it absolutely makes a difference.”

76ers Assistant Coach Dave Joerger

“With the Sixers, who have just been so supportive and just terrific, we’re going to be able to have – through Jefferson Health –  five or six different opportunities throughout the community with a mobile service where they can screen people and work on early detection for people that might not otherwise make that trip or push themselves to go have something checked out. Man, that makes a difference. I’m just really, really proud of our organization because they’re just ahead of the curve. They’re fantastic in their support of how we can help with the resources we have, which are a lot. It’s very humbling, very cool.”

The 48 year-old Minnesota native whose NBA experience includes time spent in Memphis, Sacramento, and now Philadelphia, reflected on the past year…

“It was interesting and it was difficult,” Joerger said. “I had a lot of support from, not just basketball people, but a lot of basketball people throughout the country. And certainly friends and family, and then also our Sixers family as well. It’s not something you think is ever going to happen to you. I think that’s why people don’t go get tested and get the detection devices and tests applied to them because that’s stuff that happens to other people. I certainly was one of those people. I remember when I got the text. We were in Toronto. ‘We’ve found something.’ You immediately call your doctor… It was the longest three or four hours ever. We got to the arena, I grabbed the trainer and we went in and Doc [Rivers] and I put our heads together. I said here’s what I know so far, we’ll see what happens coming down the pike, but I can’t believe this is happening to me. You go through it, you get through it, and come out the other side.”