Morey: Rivers and Harden will stay with 76ers

CAMDEN, NJ — Philadelphia 76ers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey said coach Doc Rivers will return next season for a third year with the franchise.

“I just think he’s a great coach,” Morey said during exit interviews Friday after the Sixers were eliminated the night before on his floor by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals. “I love working with him. I feel like I’m learning from him. I think Elton [Brand, GM] and him and I make a great team, and we’ll see where this journey takes us.”

“But we feel pretty good about where it’s going to take us and that’s where we have a very good shot at winning the title.”

That has been the goal of each of the past two seasons in Philadelphia, since Morey arrived from the Rockets and Rivers from the LA Clippers: to take this team to a level it hasn’t reached in a generation. The 76ers haven’t gotten past the second round of the playoffs, where they have now lost four times in five years, since reaching the NBA Finals in 2001.

The 76ers haven’t won an NBA championship since 1983.

Morey reiterated that goal when he traded Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andrew Drummond and two first-round picks for james harden in this season’s blockbuster trade at the trade deadline.

On Friday, Morey repeatedly said the 76ers are eager to spend the offseason finding ways to “unlock” Harden, who was underwhelming in the playoffs (18.6 points, 8.6 assists), and make adjustments alongside the superstar center. Joel Embid.

Asked several times directly if that meant Harden has more levels to reach or if fans should lower their expectations for the former NBA MVP to move forward, Morey deftly ‘danced’ around the question without answering it.

Instead, Morey said he hopes Rivers and his staff find ways to use Harden.

“He’s an incredibly talented player,” Morey said. “Just like Joel, just like Tobias [Harris]. And I’m excited for Doc and his staff to have a full offseason to work with the players and come up with the best plan for the roster that we’ll have…Having it all together in February makes it very difficult to try and figure out how…’ unlock’ all the different player abilities and how they can work together.

“We all know he is a very skilled player and we will find out how to use him.”

Morey also followed up on Harden’s statement that as he weighs what to do with his player option this summer, he will return to Philadelphia next season.

“That’s the plan, is to get him back,” Morey said. “That’s been the plan since the trade. Obviously we have to work with his representative and that will be between us to figure out how it works out.”

There was a melancholy mood overall, as you’d expect from a team that bounced back from the playoffs the way they did, with back-to-back ugly losses to the Heat.

“Well, we’re sick,” Morey said. “We’re here because we have high aspirations. I know our fans have too… That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re doing this. So it’s hard to be here right now. Still emotional.

“[Pero] look, we’re excited about what we can build from here. We think of many things in which we can improve and that is in [Brand], that’s in Coach Rivers. We feel like there’s a lot to build on.”

While Philadelphia has a solid foundation to build on, simply because of Embiid’s presence, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Miami star, Jimmy Butler, he was able to get what he wanted against the 76ers defensively in this series and perimeter defense was a constant problem all season. Depth was another problem.

Morey said defense was going to be a point of focus, while Rivers echoed Embiid’s statement that the team needs more toughness to move forward.

“Well, I think it’s something our players can grow into,” Morey said of a lack of mental toughness being a common theme in exit interviews with players. “I mean going through losses and how do you respond to that and how do you take your own look in the mirror. I think we all need to look in the mirror and say, ‘How can we each be better?’ … And that goes for me too.”

Ultimately, though, what the 76ers have done in the last two seasons is no better than what they did in the previous three, in terms of how far they’ve gotten in the postseason. But advancing to the playoffs is no easy feat, Rivers said, and it takes a learning curve from the top down in the organization to pull it off.

“Because winning is hard,” Rivers said. “You just don’t show up and just say, ‘Okay, guys. We keep going.’ It’s hard. We are not the only organization. It’s hard to move on. We had a chance last year, we didn’t get it. This year was difficult. I mean, obviously with all the injuries and stuff, so the answers aren’t easy, it’s hard, we’re right there in the discussion.

And that’s all you can do. And then you come back and keep working at it until you get over the mountain. Milwaukee, look at them, it took them two or three years to cross the mountain. Is that how it works. It’s not guaranteed for anyone.”

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Morey: Rivers and Harden will stay with 76ers