5 potential candidates for the 76ers' next head coach – theScore
Brown’s dismissal doesn’t just cap a disappointing season in Philadelphia. It also ends a lackluster stretch over several years that has seen postseason success evade the franchise despite a talented (and costly) core. Whoever succeeds the 59-year-old is tasked with immediately reversing the 76ers’ playoff misfortunes.
A coaching search is reportedly underway in Philadelphia, though some potential names may not be on the franchise’s radar yet. Here are five prospective candidates to be the 76ers’ next head coach.
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Udoka is the safe, in-house fit in Philadelphia. The 43-year-old has been the lead assistant on the 76ers’ coaching staff since June 2019 after working with Gregg Popovich on the San Antonio Spurs for seven years. His experience appears to be well regarded around the league. The New York Knicks reportedly interviewed Udoka for their now-filled coaching vacancy, and he’s also spoken with the Toronto Raptors and Orlando Magic in recent years.
By promoting Udoka, the 76ers hope he can rejuvenate the squad while presenting its key stars with some familiarity. A similar maneuver worked for the Raptors when they parted ways with Dwane Casey (despite him winning Coach of the Year) to hire his longtime assistant Nick Nurse, who led them to the title in his first season in charge.
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Philly has shifted its sights from amassing lottery picks to contending for titles, so it’s time to bring in a proven winner. Enter Lue, who is currently the top assistant on Doc Rivers’ Los Angeles Clippers staff.
Lue played 554 games over 11 seasons before joining the coaching ranks. The 43-year-old guided the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers to the title after taking over from David Blatt as the team’s top play-caller in January 2016. The Cavs followed that championship with two more Finals appearances in 2017 and 2018. The latter run came after Kyrie Irving departed via trade, triggering an ad-hoc reconfiguration of the roster during the 2017 offseason.
Lue has demonstrated an ability to navigate sky-high expectations while commanding respect in a star-laden locker room. Isn’t that exactly what the 76ers need as the team looks to maximize the talents of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons over the next decade?
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Wright has led Villanova to 14 March Madness trips in 19 years, resulting in national championships in 2016 and 2018. Including his eight seasons at Hofstra, he has 594 coaching wins and a career .690 winning percentage.
Maybe Wright is content with a Coach K-like career as a college lifer. But, if he’s ever going to give the NBA a try, the crosstown 76ers present a fantastic opportunity.
John Beilein’s disastrous 14-40 run with the Cavs this season doesn’t exactly help the case for Wright to leave the college ranks. The 67-year-old ex-Michigan coach learned the hard way that managing a roster of millionaires isn’t quite the same as molding a squad of teenage amateurs. Wright is a relatively spry 58 years old compared to Beilein, but that would still make him the second-oldest non-interim first-time head coach since the Spurs hired then-61-year-old Jerry Tarkanian in 1992.
It’s not like Wright isn’t familiar with coaching pro-caliber talent. Eight of his former Wildcat players graced NBA rosters during the 2019-20 season, plus he’s cut his teeth as an assistant on Popovich’s USA Basketball staff. The timing could be right for him to make the leap.
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Atkinson’s name has come up in a few searches since suddenly leaving the Brooklyn Nets in March. He has yet to latch on elsewhere despite four respectable seasons with the club. While the combined 118-190 record doesn’t jump off the page, his player development skills make him an intriguing option. The 76ers are well beyond “The Process,” but a revamped system could be what finally gets Simmons, Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Al Horford all clicking simultaneously.
A minor tactical refresh aside, Atkinson may also be the kind of voice Philadelphia needs. 76ers guard Josh Richardson candidly told PhillyVoice’s Kyle Neubeck on Sunday that Brown didn’t hold players accountable enough. Atkinson has benched some of his best players if they weren’t performing well, the most memorable being D’Angelo Russell during the 2018-19 season.
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D’Antoni is preoccupied with managing the Houston Rockets in the playoffs right now, but the 69-year-old’s future beyond 2019-20 isn’t settled.
The two-time Coach of the Year has been running down his contract after failing to agree on an extension in 2019. Add in the fact the Rockets’ brass are considering Lue or Jeff Van Gundy if the coaching role opens up, according to The Athletic’s Sam Amick, and D’Antoni is almost certainly gone if he doesn’t at least get to the Finals.
D’Antoni’s expertise is just what the 76ers need. He’s a well-traveled offensive specialist with a playbook that can energize Philadelphia’s stagnant scoring, which ranked 20th with 110.7 points per game during the regular season. Coincidentally, they also had a 110.7 offensive rating, which ranked 14th league-wide and proves they weren’t much better by advanced metrics.
Some familiarity could also work in D’Antoni’s favor. The longtime bench boss was the 76ers’ associate head coach during the 2015-16 season and oversaw Elton Brand’s final year as a player. Brand, who was named the 76ers’ general manager in 2018, is reportedly remaining in the team’s front office.