Rivers Already Creating Connections

by Lauren Rosen

Doc Rivers hasn't even been on the job for a week - but he already likes what he's seen from his new team.

The group impressed Rivers from afar prior to him accepting his job with the Sixers, and his excitement to get to work grows by the day.

Philadelphia’s new head coach cites the young All-Star duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as one of the main reasons he jumped at the opportunity to coach the Sixers.

“We have two young stars here in Philadelphia, [Ben and Joel have] already had success,” Rivers said Monday. “My job is to add to that, and try to take them to a place that they’ve not been.”

In case you need a reminder of where they’ve been:

Embiid, in four NBA seasons, boasts three All-Star nods, two All-NBA nods, and three All-Defensive team nods.

Simmons, in three NBA seasons, has been Rookie of the Year, a two-time All-Star, an All-NBA pick, and an All-Defense selection.

The place they haven’t been: a deep postseason run.

“They’ve done a lot of winning, but we want to be the winner,” Rivers said. “Winning is great, but being the winner is the best. And that’s what we’re going to try to do.

Rivers said he's spent recent days talking to each Sixer one-on-one. Each conversation has had some common themes.

“We got into talking about winning, immediately, with each one of them - and the expectations of that,” Rivers said.

But it’s an act easier said than done.

“It’s the best feeling in the world - winning. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do - winning,” Rivers said, reflecting on his 2008 NBA Championship as the Celtics’ head coach.

“I’m going to need them to buy in, and to buy in together as a group.”

One Sixer star has experience buying into Rivers’ system.

Tobias Harris played parts of two seasons under Rivers as a Clipper. He was traded from Detroit to LA in 2017-18, and then from LA to Philadelphia in 2019.

In his 2018-19 campaign as a Clipper, Harris boasted career-high offensive numbers.. In his 55 games in LA, he averaged 20.9 points (career-high), 7.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. He shot 49.6% from the field (career-high), 43.4% from deep (career-high), and 87.7% from the foul line.

“I gave [Tobias] freedom," said Rivers. "I’m a big believer in freedom, because with freedom, you’re more accountable to your teammates.

"If I’m going to give you freedom, you can’t lose that by taking bad shots or playing the wrong way.”

Rivers says he’s looking forward to his reunion with Harris.

“I loved coaching him. I like that he’s a multi positional player. I love his shot. He has a great in-between game.”

The Sixers’ new head coach has also been impressed by a pair of the organization’s rising stars in Shake Milton and Matisse Thybulle, both of whom he spoke with Sunday night.

Milton made a lasting strong impression on March 1 of this year, when the Sixers visited Rivers’ Clippers at STAPLES Center.

The shorthanded Sixers were facing a loaded Clippers team when Milton exploded for a career-high 39 points (14-20 FG, 7-9 3PT).

Rivers made sure to reference Milton’s breakout performance when the two connected.

“The only thing I told Shake - if he can play like he played against us in LA, then I don’t need to say another word to him,” Rivers said.

“I remember Shake almost single-handedly beating us. From that point on, he took off.”

Rivers believes Milton has what it takes to be a winner.

“I just love that he’s not scared to take the shot. I love players like that. And I think he’ll do well under me.”

Thybulle made his own impression as a rookie.

“[Matisse] is an NBA all-defensive player right now,” Rivers said. “He has a chance, right now, to make a difference defensively."

Rivers added he looks forward to helping Thybulle grow his offensive game in his sophomore campaign.

With the Sixers currently spread around the world in this unprecedented offseason, Rivers hopes to visit each of his new players in person in the coming weeks.

“I think [the players] have to see a vision, and my job is to show them that vision.”

“Due to COVID, everyone’s gone. You have to find them! You don’t know when the season starts. That’s very difficult for a player - and a coach - to know when to ramp it up.”

But one thing’s for sure: Rivers is ready to embrace the group when the time comes.

“This team is loaded with talent,” Rivers said. “I can’t wait to get on the court.”

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