CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid was shocked the 76ers fired Doc Rivers. The NBA MVP had no say in his former coach’s fate — and team president Daryl Morey says neither Embiid nor any other player will have a say in the new one.
The 76ers have their share of candidates, many with NBA Finals experience. It’s one reason Morey decided to fire Rivers after three straight seasons of second-round exits and search for a proven winner who can lead them to a championship.
Morey said he was excited about the talent pool — Nick Nurse, Mike Budenholzer and Monty Williams are among the top available names — and would not rush the search.
“We’re taking a careful process with the coach,” Morey said Wednesday. “We do not think it will move quickly. We have to be careful with the process word but it is true.”
The next coach will inherit Embiid.
Embiid and James Harden?
Now that’s where it gets dicey.
The 33-year-old Harden, wildly inconsistent in the playoffs, is expected to decline the $35.6 million option on his contract and become a free agent. The 76ers have the right to offer Harden a $210 million, four-year deal, $8 million more overall than any other team.
Morey said the 76ers are interested in bringing back Harden.
But what if Harden wants to play elsewhere? The 76ers are prepared for either scenario. Morey said Plan A was signing Harden. Plan B was “having to get creative” about replacing the 10-time All-Star while still keeping the team among the best in the East.
“There’s like 26 teams that would rather have our roster,” Morey said. “We’re starting with the MVP of the league. The draft lottery yesterday was hoping to get a top pick to hope that player becomes as good as the MVP of the league. We’re starting in a great spot.”
Embiid might not necessarily agree. Morey did say the 29-year-old center expressed his shock at Rivers’ firing but was committed to improvement no matter who was on the bench.
“It’s my job to help convince him the new coach is someone he’ll have a great relationships with, as well,” Morey said.
Embiid is a wrecking ball in the regular season but sustaining that same level of elite play in the playoffs has been a challenge. He’s been dogged by injuries throughout his postseason career, such as a sprained right knee this season, and his numbers dip at the wrong times. Consider Game 7’s blowout loss at Boston, a game that sealed Rivers’ fate. Embiid scored 15 points after a disappearing act down the stretch in the Game 6 loss at home.
“I wouldn’t bet against him improving again,” Morey said. “A lot of the conversation with Joel was just him like, I can do more, I can work on this, I’m watching the playoffs and looking at this guy, I can add that to my game.”
Morey credited the big games Embiid and Harden had in the playoffs but there was no denying the Game 6 and 7 collapses and both stars ineffectiveness in the clutch helped show Rivers the exit.
“We’re looking for someone who brings leadership and accountability, someone who is good at tactics, someone who has great relationships with his star players, and who someone who is good at recruiting star players and players want to play for, someone who builds a great organization,” Morey said.
Rivers led Boston to a championship in 2008 and look how much that mattered in Philly.
Morey defended his performance as the one calling all the shots and said the franchise was in a better state than it was when he was hired in 2020.
“Frankly, I feel like I’m the best guy to lead the 76ers and ownership believes that,” he said.
One way he tried to defer criticism was steering the narrative away from their second-round failures — the Sixers haven’t reached the conference finals since 2001 — and paint them as one of many talented teams that hasn’t won a title.
One more early exit and the first big press conference next offseason could be the one for Morey’s replacement.
76ers’ Daryl Morey taking ‘careful’ approach in coaching search