The last time Doc Rivers was interviewed, his Sixers had just been booted from the second round of this year’s NBA playoffs, by the Hawks. The coach was asked if Ben Simmons, who had memorably passed up an open dunk attempt at a key point in the game, could be the point guard on a championship team. “I don’t know that question, or the answer to that, right now,” he said.
It took three months, but Rivers now seems to know both that question and its answer, according to his grim appearances on multiple ESPN programs today in support of Simmons, who reportedly told the Sixers that he will not report to training camp and does not intend to play another game for them. “Well, I hope we can change that thought,” said Rivers on ESPN’s Keyshawn, JWill, and Max, adding (unconvincingly) that lots of players flatly refuse to play another game for their team following a playoff elimination. Doc Rivers is sorry, and he’s trying to fix it.
Rivers returned for a second helping, this time an appearance on First Take, where he said his words in June were mischaracterized and reiterated his commitment to his player. These appear to be attempts to win back Simmons, who is only entering his second year of a five-year, $177 million contract and is, after all, in possession of some unbelievably useful basketball skills. Far be it from me to tell the Sixers that this ploy won’t work—maybe the moody Simmons demands an expression of support exactly as public as his coach and teammate’s expressions of skepticism had been, or maybe he’s just not picking up his phone anymore—but it is curious that they’ve had Rivers make his appeal on cable TV, rather sweatily, to literally Stephen A. Smith. At least the coach made it clear to Ben, and the world, that he is not asking for much. “We don’t even need him to hit 70 [percent],” Rivers said of Simmons’s free throw shooting, which fell to a deathly 34 percent in the postseason. “We can win a title with Ben. I just believe that.”
There’s no dignity in being an NBA coach anymore, if there ever was any. “I’m not sure what the actual stat was, but I wanna say, Trae Young was 5-for-24. Who did that?” wondered aloud an unshaven Doc Rivers, filmed at an angle low enough to double his chin, by a constantly shaking camera. These are the idle musings of an addled Process blogger, not a 21-year coaching stalwart. But maybe these are precisely the sacrifices a player might want to see from leadership. If Doc Rivers really wants to show Ben Simmons he’s for real, we’re going to need a front-facing video filmed in a moving car.