From where Doc Rivers is sitting, the Sixers did nothing wrong during free agency.
The Sixers' head coach addressed the NBA’s investigation into potential tampering by the team in an episode of ESPN’s The VC Show podcast with Vince Carter and Ros Gold-Onwude released Tuesday.
“Well, you just do,” Rivers said when asked how the Sixers organization deals with the investigation. “You handle it, because it’s not true. Honestly, when James (Harden) did this and said this … first of all, we didn’t know what we were going to do with the money we were getting. And listen, James won, too, because James could’ve opted into a one-year deal. Instead, we gave him three years. And so both parties won in a lot of ways. Listen, it worked out for us, it worked out for James.
“I guarantee you (Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey) had no idea what James was going to do. I remember talking to him on the eve of when James could opt in or out, and he was like, ‘We’ve got five hours left.’ I mean, that was Daryl Morey, so that tells you he had no idea. I did, honestly. I really believed that James was not going to opt in, that he was going to try to do a longer-term deal. But I didn’t know, I can tell you that. That’s for sure.”
Though Rivers seemingly alluded to the Sixers signing Harden for three years, the 10-time All-Star's new contract is a two-year deal with a player option in the second season. Instead of opting into approximately $47.4 million for the 2022-23 season, Harden will make $33 million next year and then have a $35.6 million player option.
Rivers shared his thoughts on the motivation behind the league’s scrutiny of the Sixers.
“You have 29 competitors against you,” he said. “There’s no doubt that some teams — especially probably the (teams) that we took players from — they’re like, ‘This is not fair.’ That’s the the way it works. I get that; I’ve been on it. When I was with the Clippers, we ended up getting Kawhi (Leonard). The whole league was all over us about it. So it’s just the way it works, but this is a competition.”
There’s no debate about whether the Sixers are now free to talk with their own players. And, according to Rivers, he’s been doing that plenty with Harden.
“He calls me too much, you can tell him that,” Rivers joked. “He really does. It’s been great. He’s working. He’s working his butt off. I think about nine of the guys were in town last week, and they worked out every day together. … He works out with his development guys. They report back. He’s in great shape and he is working his butt off. I saw him about four days ago and he looked great.”
Rivers was similarly enthusiastic about Joel Embiid’s offseason, predicting the MVP runner-up is “going to take a bigger jump this year.” He also went out of his way to praise the Sixers’ draft-night trade with the Grizzlies for 24-year-old combo guard De’Anthony Melton.
“I think one of the moves that people aren’t looking at is De’Anthony Melton,” Rivers said. “I love the kid. I think he fits our DNA. And I was honest with our team and our organization after the season. We weren’t good enough to beat Miami. They were tougher, they were more bought in, and we needed to add some toughness to our team.
“Getting P.J. (Tucker) obviously handles a lot of that, but De’Anthony Melton is the same DNA as that. We needed that on this team. And he can make shots; he can shoot the ball. And playing with Joel and James, the fact that you can make threes and make plays, it’s going to be huge for us.”
Rivers also touched on team chemistry, Embiid’s leadership and more on the podcast, which you can listen to here.