CAMDEN, NJ — Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said coach Doc Rivers will be returning for a third year with the franchise next season.
“I just think he’s a great coach,” Morey said during Friday’s exit interviews after the Sixers were eliminated on their home court by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals last night. “I love working with him. I feel like I’m learning from him. I think [general manager] Elton [Brand] and he and I are a great team and we’ll see where this journey takes us.
“But we feel very good about where it’s going to take us and there we have a very good chance of winning the title.”
That’s been the goal for the past two seasons in Philadelphia since Morey came from the Houston Rockets and Rivers from the LA Clippers: take that team to a level it hasn’t reached in a generation. The 76ers have not made it past the second round of the playoffs — where they have lost four times in five years — since reaching the NBA Finals in 2001.
The 76ers have not won an NBA championship since 1983.
Morey repeated that goal when he traded Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round draft picks for James Harden in this season’s blockbuster close of trade.
On Friday, Morey repeatedly said the 76ers are looking forward to spending the offseason finding ways to “unlock” and alongside Harden, who was underwhelming in the playoffs (18.6 points, 8.6 assists). improve fit with superstar center Joel Embiid.
When asked directly multiple times if that means Harden needs to level up or if fans should lower their expectations of the former NBA MVP’s future, Morey artfully danced around the question without answering.
Instead, Morey said he looks forward to Rivers and his staff finding ways to deploy Harden.
“Look. He’s an incredibly talented player,” Morey said. “Just like Joel, just like Tobias [Harris]. And I look forward to Doc and his staff having a full off-season to work with the players and develop the best roster plan we will have. … After everything came together in February, it is very difficult to figure out how to … “unlock” all the different skills of the players and how they can work together.
“We all know he is a very experienced player and we will find out how to use him.”
Morey also addressed Harden’s statement that while he ponders what to do with his player option this summer, he will be back in Philadelphia next season.
“That’s the plan, to have him back,” Morey said. “That’s been the plan since the trade. Of course we need to work with his representation and that will be between us to figure out how that works.”
Overall, though, it was a melancholic mood – as you’d expect from a team that’s bounced back from the playoffs like that with two ugly losses to the Heat.
“Well, we’re sick,” Morey said. “We are here because we have big ambitions. I know our fans do too. … That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re doing this. So it’s difficult to be here now. still emotional
“[But] See, we’re excited to see what we can build from here. We think we can improve a lot of things and that’s me, that’s it [Brand], that’s on Coach Rivers. We’ll find out. But we feel like there’s a lot to build on.”
While Philadelphia has a strong foundation to build on, there’s still work to be done simply thanks to Embiid’s presence. Miami star Jimmy Butler was able to get what he wanted defensively against the 76ers this series, and full-back has been a constant concern all season. Depth was also an issue.
Morey said defense will be a focus, while Rivers echoed Embiid’s statements that the team needs more toughness to move forward.
“Well, I think it’s something for our players to grow on,” Morey said of a lack of mental toughness, which is a common theme in player exit interviews. “I mean going through losses and how you react to it and how you take it as your own look in the mirror. I think we all need to look in the mirror and say, ‘How can we all get better?’ … And so does I.”
Ultimately, what the 76ers have done over the past two seasons is no better than what they have done in the previous three when it comes to how far they’ve managed to progress in the postseason. But advancing in the playoffs is no easy feat, Rivers said, and requires a top-down learning curve in an organization to do so.
“Because winning is hard,” Rivers said. “You just don’t show up and you’re just like, ‘Okay, guys. We’re moving on.’ It’s hard. We’re not the only organization. It’s hard to go on. We had an opportunity last year, didn’t make it. This year was tough. I mean, of course, with all the injuries and stuff like that, answers are easy. It It’s hard. We’re right there. We’re putting ourselves in the fray. And that’s all you can do. And then you come back and keep working at it until you get over the hill.
“Milwaukee, look at her, it took two or three years to get over the hill. Here’s how it works. It cannot be guaranteed to anyone.”