Philadelphia 76ers need Doc Rivers to fix his culture and win as team contemplates future business and a new arena


Doc Rivers, then of the LA Clippers, yells at his team during the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 23, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

Kevin C. Cox | Getty Images

Director of performance.

That’s the label NBA insiders give Doc Rivers after his quick move from the LA Clippers to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Within a week, Rivers moved from Los Angeles to Philly, from a team owned by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to one owned by Wall Street investor Josh Harris. Harris is the co-founder of private equity firm Apollo Global Management and co-owns the Sixers and New Jersey Devils with David Blitzer under the Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment company.

“Chief Performance Officer,” said an NBA executive, describing Rivers’ hiring. “You have CEOs whose job it is to present just a message. Well, a head coach is more than just a message – he’s a message and results.”

The NBA executive agreed to speak to TBEN on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of discussing team business.

“It’s appropriate in this circumstance,” added former NBA executive Andy Dolich when asked about the “CPO” label.

And now Rivers is the Sixers’ new CPO. He’s in charge of a Sixers roster that fell short of expectations last season, the chatter of discontent among star players and the accompanying finger pointing.

Behind the scenes, current and former NBA executives, including New York Knicks executive Donnie Walsh, are endorsing Rivers’ hiring.

Dolich, the former president of business operations for Memphis Grizzlies, called this a “positive move” on the part of the Sixers, “as long as they have the patience to face all the uncertainties every team in the NBA faces. “, thanks to Covid-19.

Rivers’ new five-year contract is north of $ 40 million and includes incentives that trigger team performance. If he can deliver a title for Philadelphia, the $ 280 million that Harris and his company has invested in the Sixers could increase the valuation beyond his current $ 2 billion. But Rivers will face challenges, starting with fixing the product and making her own coaching adjustments when it matters most.

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Joel Embiid # 21 of the Philadelphia 76ers reacts to Chris Silva # 30 of the Miami Heat in the third quarter at the Wells Fargo Center on November 23, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Mitchell Leff | Getty Images

Doc leadership

After the team left the NBA bubble playoffs in the first round in August, the Sixers fired Brett Brown. The Sixers’ leadership, which includes HBSE CEO Scott O’Neil and team general manager Elton Brand, were mystified by the team’s home record 31-4, but a poor performance on the road at 12-26. As a CPO, Brown paid the price.

An NBA team member with knowledge of Sixers business said the club lacked focus on the road and the team’s travel party was too large. The staff member called the Sixers “unorganized,” adding that the club had too many front desk staff with titles but undefined roles.

Rivers, who turned 59 on October 13, will also have to fix the Sixers’ locker room and link his franchise players to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. The Sixers give Rivers and Brand the keys to decisions about basketball operations, leveraging Rivers’ history of fixing messy teams.

Flashback on Rivers’ second coaching job helping Danny Ainge transform the Boston Celtics who completed the Antoine Walker-Paul Pierce experience.

The Celtics traded Walker to Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks in 2003 and ultimately won the NBA Finals in 2008. The team returned to the final in 2010, falling to the Los Angeles Lakers led by Kobe Bryant in Game 7. .

With the Clippers, Rivers fell short of expectations and didn’t secure a championship, but he did take the team out of what many see as the black mark in NBA history – sacking the former owner Donald Sterling for racial remarks. Rivers is also credited with helping Ballmer navigate his early years of NBA ownership.

“Your head coach provides the narrative. This is why coaches like Doc Rivers are so good and why they cost so much money,” the executive said, adding that Ballmer would hire another good coach. “But he’ll never find anyone better [than Rivers]. “

On Thursday, the Clippers replaced Rivers with assistant coach Tyronn Lue, who will oversee a team that lost a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs.

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Scott O’Neil, general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers in New York City, September 26, 2016.

Christopher Goodney | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Comfort zones

While Rivers is being praised for fixing team culture, he will also need to address his coaching.

In the NBA, star players judge coaches by adjustments made especially in the playoffs. In league circles, Rivers is criticized for not adjusting. This is where he’ll need to be innovative with hiring assistants, as the 3-1 playoff leads start to follow him more than the 2008 Championship.

During his introduction to the Sixers on October 5, Rivers, now 91-89 in the playoffs, was reminded of a quote printed in Sports Illustrated in 1999 while doing his first coaching job with the Orlando Magic: “Winning is sure,” Rivers said. “But if you want to be the winner, it means stepping out of that comfort zone.”

Asked by TBEN if he intended to do just that – get out of his comfort zone – and how he plans to follow his star players, Rivers replied, “I’m always changing. I’m always looking for a different staff. don’t I don’t think you stop growing as a coach or as a person.

“If we’re going to win, you just can’t just keep doing what you’ve always done and think you’re going to get different results,” Rivers continued. “You have to do something different. You have to give yourself to the team. You have to give up something.”

In an aerial view from a drone, this is a general view of the Wells Fargo Center on July 6, 2020 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Bruce Bennett | Getty Images

Future business

If Rivers and Brand can help Harris win a championship, O’Neil’s job might get a little easier, as winning equates to more business in the NBA.

“It’s the ultimate magnet for money,” Dolich said.

The Sixers bring in around $ 300 million in revenue, including $ 90 million in operating profit, according to TBEN. The team is set with their broadcast rights with the Comcast NBC Sports Philadelphia property until 2029. Its radio media rights with Beasley Broadcast Group are also guaranteed for another three years.

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O’Neil is credited with helping turn 3,500 season ticket holders into around 14,000 – number one in the NBA for tickets sold and attendance last season. He also landed the first NBA patch contract and landed Harris a new $ 86 million training complex in Camden, New Jersey.

And the Sixers are working with officials from Philadelphia and Comcast, which owns the Wells Fargo Center, to host an NBA All-Star Game in 2026.

But like other members of the NBA owner’s club, including Ballmer, Harris wants a flashy new arena filled with better fan experiences once the club’s lease ends in 2031.

The building has undergone a $ 250 million renovation, but the new arenas will require better 5G, Esports offerings, virtual and augmented reality engagement via sponsorship activation, and more health tech thanks to Covid-19 .

The Sixers may also want to emulate the Washington Wizards arena sports betting game, as sports betting is active in the state.

The team was rejected for their proposal to build a new complex in the town of Penn’s Landing, which is expected to bring $ 1 billion in jobs and training to Philadelphia’s black community.

The timeframe for building arenas is typically seven years, so O’Neil will need that to navigate politics and secure funding, which could include taxpayer dollars.

Harris may envision a spacious site to also build hotels, restaurants, stores and apartments to surround the new arena, but if staying in Philadelphia is vital, the team could end up in a downtown site.

Things get more manageable if the Sixers win a championship under Rivers. Dolich, also a former COO of the San Francisco 49ers, said the new trio of Sixers, Rivers, Brand and O’Neil, would need a “unity” and leave the era of “Trust the Process” behind.

“And if you don’t have it, it’s dangerous,” he said. “If you’ve got this unit, now Doc and Elton, more than Scott, they have to deal with the product manager because what’s most important are those feet on the ground.

Dolich added: “The unity of these three must result in victory.”

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal, which owns TBEN.



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