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76ers' Doc Rivers on Title Hopes After James Harden Trade: 'The Time Is Always Now'

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 18, 2022

AP Photo/Morry Gash

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers made it clear Thursday that the Sixers are all-in on trying to win a championship this season.

In an interview with Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Rivers was asked about his sense of urgency in terms of winning a title after acquiring James Harden from the Brooklyn Nets prior to the trade deadline.

Rivers stressed the importance of winning now and offered an anecdote from his time as head coach of the Boston Celtics:

"I always think right now. I've been in this league too long. And I always go back to [the Celtics' 2008 NBA championship team]. Kevin [Garnett] and I talk about it all the time. I remember the first year [2007-08] during training camp we had a meeting and they were saying, 'Man, we have to get it together. This might not be the year. But by next year, we might…' I said, 'Next year? Are you guys kidding me? Next year one of you can get hurt.'

"I know it's short. I know it's going to be hard to get it together. But having said that, the time is always now."

With a one-time NBA MVP in Harden joining a leading NBA MVP candidate this season in center Joel Embiid, there is no shortage of pressure on the Sixers to make a run at a title as soon as possible, much like the Celtics during Rivers' tenure there.

Bolstering Rivers' point about trying to win immediately is the fact that the 2007-08 Celtics superteam never won another championship.

After the core of Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen led Boston to a title in 2008, it got knocked out in the second round of the playoffs in 2009 and then returned to the Finals in 2010, only to lose to the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Celtics fell short of the Finals in each of the next two seasons, leading to Allen leaving Boston for the Miami Heat. Then, after the Celtics were eliminated in the first round of the 2013 playoffs, Garnett and Pierce were shipped out as well.

Philadelphia may not even have that big of a window since Harden is only under contract through next season, assuming he exercises the player option in his contract.

The 76ers are trending toward a fifth consecutive playoff appearance, but postseason success has eluded them.

Over the past four seasons, the Sixers have not made it out of the second round of the playoffs. That includes last season when they were shockingly knocked out in the second round by the Atlanta Hawks despite being the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Point guard Ben Simmons was viewed as a scapegoat of sorts for Philly's playoff shortcomings, but now that he has been shipped to Brooklyn as part of the Harden deal, the pressure is on for the Sixers to get over the hump.

Entering the All-Star break, the 76ers are third in the Eastern Conference with a 35-23 record, and they are only 2.5 games behind the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat, who are tied for first.

Being in third is an impressive feat since the Sixers played all season without Simmons and haven't had Harden in the lineup yet either because of a hamstring ailment.

Embiid has been the driving force behind Philadelphia's success this season, averaging an NBA-leading 29.6 points per game to go along with 11.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.4 blocks.

The one thing the Sixers have been missing in recent years is an outside complement to Embiid, but adding a three-time NBA scoring champion in Harden changes that dynamic.

Trading for a player of Harden's stature is a go-for-it move, and Rivers has essentially confirmed that the Sixers have that mindset.

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