It didn’t take long for the Philadelphia 76ers to give former head coach Brett Brown his walking papers after the Sixers got swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs. Initially perceived as contenders prior to the 2019-20 campaign, the Sixers will now have to deal with a murky future after figuring in an extremely disappointing season.
The first order of business is to find Brown’s replacement. This new head coach should be able to bring the best out of the team’s two All-Stars — Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons — who the team seems to be interested in keeping for now.
Ideally, the Sixers would love a chance to pry away Brown’s mentor, the legendary Gregg Popovich, out of San Antonio. The Brooklyn Nets are reportedly keen on doing so, even though it seems like a long shot. Sought-after assistant coaches like Jason Kidd and Becky Hammon should be considered as well, but it appears that other teams are already making a strong push for their services.
Per The Atheltic’s Shams Charania, Philly has already narrowed down its coaching search to four individuals. Judging by these fine tacticians’ impressive resumes, the Sixers couldn’t go wrong with either one of them. Sixers GM Elton Brand has to redeem himself following his questionable roster decisions over the summer. Choosing the right fit for Philadelphia’s coaching role vacancy should be his saving grace if he makes the right choice.
Let’s look at five of the best candidates available to be the next Sixers head coach.
Top Sixers target:
1. Ime Udoka
Since retiring as a professional player in 2012, Ime Udoka jumped straight to coaching under the revered Popovich-banner with the Spurs. The Nigerian-American has been a trusted deputy since and joined the Sixers this season as an assistant to Brown. No doubt Udoka has already paid his dues, and it’s about time an NBA team gives him full reins with the drawing board.
Apart from having a deep understanding of the ins-and-outs of the game, Udoka is deemed a player’s coach and an effective communicator. LaMarcus Aldridge credits Ime (who was a former teammate with the Blazers) as the main reason he signed with the Spurs in the summer of 2015.
Plus, having been around with the team for a year now, Udoka already has a relationship with the Sixers’ existing players. But the knock on Ime, of course, is that he was a trusted deputy of Brown. If the Sixers really want to go for a clean slate and change of culture, maybe Udoka is not the best choice.
Other Sixers options: 2. Tyronn Lue
Lue has one thing that the other candidates on this list don’t have. He already won a Larry O’Brien trophy as a head coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. He currently plays second fiddle to Doc Rivers for the Los Angeles Clippers, but all signs point to him being the main man in charge of another team next season.
While Lue may not be as technical as his other coaching peers, the former NBA court general has been known to make impromptu decisions and adjustments on the fly. He also managed to balance the egos of two legitimate superstars (LeBron James and Kyrie Irving) back in his tenure in Ohio. The Sixers definitely need someone who could do the same if they plan on rolling the dice with the Embiid-Simmons duo in the long run.
Pundits, however, have always questioned Lue’s coaching title credentials, since James and Irving pretty much controlled what goes on behind that 2016 championship team. He won’t have the same luxury of having a stacked roster with Philly, and his leadership will certainly be put to a test.
3. David Joerger
While Joerger’s coaching record may not be as impressive as other candidates, its also evident that he has a brilliant basketball mind. He had to rise up the ranks to finally get the head coaching nod for the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2013-14 season. He led Memphis to back-to-back 50+ wins in his two seasons as a head coach.
His three seasons at the helm of the Sacramento Kings didn’t produce favorable results, but he still made key improvements for the underachieving franchise. Joerger was initially a defensive-minded coach, before showing his ability to adapt to the ever-evolving game. However, Joerger has been known to clash with the management of the two NBA franchises he’s been involved in. That’s a troubling pattern that will certainly scare off teams who wish to sign him. Joerger is a promising choice, but he does carry some potentially unnecessary baggage with him.
4. Jay Wright
There’s been a trend of successful collegiate coaches jumping ship to the NBA in recent years. The Sixers can hop on to that bandwagon by going with Villanova’s bench boss, Jay Wright. The 58-year-old tactician has been employing pace and space in his system even before the NBA coaches started to venture with the same approach.
Wright’s Wildcat teams have embraced playing small ball and pile up a ton of points through a fast-paced inside-outside attack. It will be interesting to see how Wright will utilize Embiid, given his proficiency in scoring in the low block and outside the paint. The 2-time NCAA Division I champion coach is already an institution in Villanova, and it’s uncertain if he’s willing to give up his current position for a higher one in the pros.
While his calm demeanor and progressive system seem tailor-fit for the big leagues, Wright is still untested. The NBA is a whole different monster. We’ve seen more successful collegiate coaches failed to make an impact once they left college for the NBA.
5. Kenny Atkinson
Atkinson is not on the initial 4-man candidate list for the Sixers, but the team’s brass should also keep an eye on him. His track record with the Brooklyn Nets hasn’t exactly been good, but he made the most of what he can with the team’s limited talent at the time. Under his guidance, the 2018-19 Nets clearly overachieved and made it to the playoffs as the sixth seed.
His read-and-react offense brought out the best from the Nets’ young players at the time. Unfortunately, he became the scapegoat for the Brookyn’s troubles this season and stepped down from his post last March. One team’s trash is another team’s treasure, and other NBA franchises might be interested in his services next year.
Atkinson’s motion offense, however, does seem eerily similar to Brett Brown’s system. We all know how that turned out this season.
Despite being regarded as a “culture-builder”, he did not get the approval of the Nets’ newly-acquired superstars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. It will be interesting to see if Simmons and Embiid will buy into his system if he does get the coaching nod.