NBA

Rivers says 76ers can 'step into the fray' after securing Harden

By Sports Desk February 12, 2022

Doc Rivers believes the Philadelphia 76ers have the tools to make a play for an NBA championship after clinching a deal to bring in James Harden.

The Sixers coach saw his team beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 100-87 on Friday night to improve to 33-22 for the season, and they sit fifth in the Eastern Conference.

A stiff test comes on Saturday as they tackle the Cleveland Cavaliers, who sit three places above Philadelphia after winning two more games, and from next week Harden comes into contention once he touches down after departing the Brooklyn Nets.

The Sixers signed up Harden and Paul Millsap this week from the Nets, sending Seth Curry, reserve center Andre Drummond, Ben Simmons and two first-round picks the other way.

Asked whether the trade means his team might now be equipped to mount a serious title challenge, Rivers said: "Yeah, I think so. I mean, I don't know. That's something we will find out. We did it with the belief we do, obviously."

Rivers is looking forward to coaching Harden, the 2018 MVP, despite the 32-year-old only scoring at 22.5 points per game this season, his worst record since posting an average of 16.8 with Oklahoma in the 2011-12 season.

"Obviously, we don’t have him yet, so we have to wait and see. But he's a guy that creates his own shot, creates shots for others," Rivers said. "He's another guy on your team that gets double-teamed, which is really valuable. When you have all that, you like it a lot."

Rivers, now 60, has previously won an NBA title, landing glory with the Boston Celtics 14 years ago.

His hunger for more success on that scale remains unstated, and he said: "Let me repeat this one more time - you and no one else can put no more pressure on myself than I do. It will never happen. I'm in this to win. I've always been in this to win.

"I think the reason we did this deal was so we could step into the fray."

Rivers acknowledged Drummond's part in the multi-player deal came as a surprise to the player.

"Drummond - he never thought he was leaving, but Ben and Seth had a pretty good inkling this could happen," Rivers said.

Joel Embiid had 25 points and 19 rebounds in the Sixers' Friday night win, and he will relish teaming up with Harden.

Simmons had not played for Philadelphia since their playoffs exit at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks last season, and he has finally got his wish to move on.

Embiid took aim at his former teammate as he said: "I honestly don't care. It's unfortunate how everything happened, because you look at the history and we didn't get it done as far as winning in the playoffs, but you look at the history being on the court, what we did in the regular season, we were dominant.

"So it's unfortunate that winning was not the biggest factor.

"It's unfortunate that for him, having his own team and being the star was more of his priorities. But I always thought that everything was great, the fit was great. But unfortunately Ben thought that it wasn't. But we all move on."

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