Courtside with Aaron: the Sixers’ rocky start to the season is giving me a headache

Fans who seek to scapegoat Head coach Doc Rivers are missing bigger problems on the court


Photo illustration by Sherm (photo courtesy of

Despite a mediocre start, problems with injuries and morale loom for the Sixers

Aaron Rigby, Sports Editor

Courtside with Aaron is a regular column featuring the perspective of Sports Editor Aaron Rigby.


The Sixers are 10-9 after their first 19 games of the season, and it seems that this season will play like previous years: bad coaching and injuries. Despite this seemingly winning season thus far, games show that the Philadelphia 76ers can’t get the job done, but they will be back next year when they are healthy.

This has been the story of the 76ers for the past four or five years and it doesn’t seem to be coming to an end. This season, it only took six games for someone to miss a game due to injury—in this case, the suspect was Joel Embiid, per usual. Embiid missed the Sixers’ sixth game of the year against the Toronto Raptors due to Knee soreness; however, Philly was able to easily defeat the Raptors 112-90. Just two games later, Embiid was ruled out for three games straight due to a non-COVID related illness. In this stretch of games, the Sixers were able to pull out an away win against the Washington Wizards, then lost two games in a row, one to the Wizards and the other to the New York Knicks, both games played on their home floor. The Sixers loss to the Knicks marked Embiids third missed game in a row, fourth missed of the season. It was also James Harden’s first missed game of many to come, after a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski came out, stating that Harden will be out for at least a month dealing with a right foot tendon sprain. 

Embiid’s first game back was against the Phoenix Suns, who came into the game with a 7-2 record, compared to the Sixers 4-6 record. However, Embiid’s return seemingly sparked a fire under the Sixers, who played this game with the most energy they have played with in any game thus far in the season. Despite Suns starting point guard Chris Paul leaving the game early with an injury, this was still a great win for the Sixers, putting them at just one game under .500 a few games in.

Then just one game after a hard fought game full of effort and energy, the team traveled to Atlanta to take on the Hawks, who were coming off of a loss to the Utah Jazz, who are somehow standing at the top of the Western Conference at the moment. 

Although I want to side with Doc Rivers in the sense that he is not the problem and everybody is just trying to shift the blame from Embiid onto him, I will not sit here and act like he is not a big contributor to the problem.

After watching the Sixers lose to the Atlanta Hawks, I have come to the conclusion that the Sixers are not a team that can even compete to win a championship, and are not a team that should be considered as a threat to any of the top teams in the Eastern conference, whether that be the Milwaukee Bucks, the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat, the Cleveland Cavaliers—who by the way have done a fantastic job with rebuilding the team back up to championship contention just a few years after losing LeBron James to the Lakers—or even the Toronto Raptors, who the Sixers defeated in six games last season. 

It is honestly upsetting because anybody who has a lick of NBA knowledge can look at this team on paper and confidently call them a championship contender, but a plethora of negative things have just been putting this team down for such a long time, and it is just not going to end this year. 

We are only 19 games in and both Embiid and Harden have missed games due to injury or illness. Embiid, even before the injuries and illnesses, has appeared to have slowed down physically from last year. I understand that we are only 19 games in — a mere 11% of the season has been played — and players are only now beginning to be getting back into game shape, but the amount of times I have seen this man not get back on defense until the opposing team is already about halfway through their possession is ridiculous. Another thing is that it seems as if it is every other possession that the Sixers turn the ball over due to a lazy pass, lack of communication or simply no effort. 

And once again, the Sixers are going to try and scapegoat head coach Doc Rivers like they did with Brett Brown and Ben Simmons, and they’re going to try and replace him with Mike D’Antoni and turn this team into the 2019 Rockets with Embiid. And although I want to side with Doc Rivers in the sense that he is not the problem and everybody is just trying to shift the blame from Embiid onto him, I will not sit here and act like he is not a big contributor to the problem. 

The game against the Atlanta Hawks was a poor performance from not only the players, but from Doc as well. The starter and second unit played horrendous in the first 3 and a half quarters, allowing the Hawks to lead by as much as 20 points, and at that point, Doc Rivers threw the towel in and subbed in the third stringers with about six minutes remaining in the contest. It turned out that the third stringers, mainly Montrezl Harrel, was the lineup that ended up showing the most heart and effort on the floor, fighting and clawing the Sixers back into the game, cutting the lead to just 7 with two minutes remaining. But then with about one minute and 40 seconds remaining in the game with the Sixers down 8, Doc decided to bring the starters back in for absolutely no reason. I would understand him bringing the starters back in if there were three or four minutes remaining in the game down by 8, but down six with one minute and 40 seconds left in the game? Why did you wait so long or why did you even bring them back at all because what do you expect them to do in less than two minutes? The third stringers were arguably playing better than the starters anyway. 

The Sixers are off to a rocky start and if they want to turn this season around they need to have better demeanor, play with more heart and energy, stay healthy, and Doc Rivers is going to have to get his rotations in check, but that will be a tall task for a team who has a track record of failing in all of these fields.