Why Philadelphia 76ers Are Approaching Coaching Search in Perfect Fashion
Of the NBA's 30 teams, 29 have a head coach for the 2013-14 season. At first glance, you might surmise the Philadelphia 76ers have taken this whole Andrew Wiggins thing too far. Tanking is one thing but going coachless altogether?
Of course, in reality, the Sixers are just taking their time. This franchise isn't in any rush—not to find a coach to engineer the rebuild nor to complete that rebuild on any terms but its own. If patience is a virtue, the Sixers are approaching sainthood.
Or something much less impressive if you ask Charles Barkley (per CSNPhilly.com staff):
I think that's one of the silliest things that I've seen in sports in a long time...to not have a coach under contract by now, I think that's a joke. I don't know what they're waiting on. You're playing summer-league games, people need to know who's in charge. They got players who are playing in the summer league, they got assistant coaches coaching the team. You just can't bring somebody in, and him have instant credibility -- he has to build rapport with the players.
Sir Charles will be pleased to know Philadelphia is reportedly making some progress according to ESPN's Marc Stein:
Hearing: Bulls assistant coach Adrian Griffin had three-hour interview with Sixers ownership Tuesday for his second interview with Philly— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) August 7, 2013
Insistence for weeks in coaching circles has been Brett Brown or Michael Curry gets Philly job. Yet no surrender from Griff & Jay Larranaga— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) August 7, 2013
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski added Atlanta Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson to the list of candidates meeting with the Sixers and reported potential interest in Portland Trail Blazers assistant David Vanterpool as well. If there's a consistent theme here, it seems to be that Philadelphia's on the lookout for an up-and-coming coach who'd grow along with a roster that probably won't take full shape for another year or two.
Philadelphia may have eschewed the league's big names, but chances are most of those names probably weren't interested in babysitting this roster to a Bobcats-like record anyway.
Curry is the only candidate who worked for Collins, so he'd offer the most continuity of the bunch. That's not to say the Sixers are looking for continuity necessarily, but it goes without saying Curry was about as much of last season's problem as Collins—which is to say, not much. While some have advocated (h/t Yahoo) full-on front-office housecleaning, Collins will remain with the club thanks to a five-year consulting gig.
Longtime Sixers "company man" Tony DiLeo has been replaced by Sam Hinkie as general manager, and former President Rod Thorn named the NBA's President of Basketball Operations. Its busy summer notwithstanding, though, the organization hasn't silenced all critics.
But while critics like Barkley make a good argument, it's an argument principally concerned with what happens this season.
The Sixers aren't.
Lessons From the Doug Collins Era
It wouldn't be fair to describe Doug Collins' tenure with the Sixers as a failure—or anything close to it. Despite the promising core of young talent Collins took to the postseason in 2011 and 2012, this roster was never good enough to shed the "overachiever" label. To whatever extent his personnel did in fact overachieve, Collins deserves a lot of the credit.
You can huff and puff about Collins' (probably overstated) aversion to advanced metrics, but by most measures—admittedly measures of the basic, commonsensical, non-advanced variety—this guy knows the game pretty well. He didn't leave in disgrace. He left because he was 61 and wanted to spend some time with family.
But he got a tad frustrated along the way, treating the media to a post-game presser for the ages after his Sixers were handed their sixth-straight loss (this time to the Orlando Magic). While those frustrations (including the loss of guys like Nikola Vucevic in exchange for the inoperative Andrew Bynum) were more than understandable, they were also inconsistent with Collins' reputation as an even-keeled master teacher.
His young team may have indeed taken a lesson away from the rant, but that lesson was that the fertilizer had officially hit the fan.
It's one thing to light a fire under those guys, but it's safe to say this franchise will need every ounce of coaching composure it can find going forward—not someone quietly thinking, "I'm missing out on my grandkids for this?"
To that end, Philadelphia's next coach should be young, patient and focused on the bottom line. Oh, and he should have absolutely nowhere else he needs to be. This is going to be a long ride.
Finding the Right Fit
The Sixers acquired Nerlens Noel (from New Orleans) and Michael Carter-Williams (drafted 10th) in the first round of the draft this summer, highlighting just how long this road will be. If only upside translated into something on the scoreboard.
Noel could become an All-Star-caliber rim protector. Carter-Williams could emerge as one of the league's most versatile playmakers. At the moment, though, neither of them can shoot. And at the moment, the closest things to veteran stars in this rotation are Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young, all 24 and 25 years of them (respectively).
On the one hand, premier assistants like Brian Shaw (hired by Denver) or Mike Budenholzer (hired by Atlanta) might have seemed like the perfect candidates to oversee what promises to be a fairly epic maturation process. After all, both had experience with winning programs—Shaw with the Lakers and Pacers, Budenholzer with the Spurs since 1996.
Unfortunately, all that experience in the postseason would have become a double-edged sword in Philly. Winning cultures are great and all, but only when coaches stick around long enough to cultivate them. The prospect of a long-term rebuild hanging its hopes on lottery ping-pong balls was surely a non-starter for both. And even if it hadn't been, could you really see either of those guys staying, especially if those ping-pong balls don't pan out?
When you're used to lengthy postseasons, fully-functional front offices and long-established (and effective) systems, completely starting from scratch probably sounds like more fun than it is. That Philly has reportedly been eyeing assistants from the Blazers and Hawks shouldn't be surprising. There's nothing to lower expectations like time spent with consistently middling franchises.
Fitting in with Philly will require some seriously lowered expectations.
Oh, About That Fit...
The best reason for the Sixers taking their time has more to do with the Sixers than any of their prospective candidates. Hinkie has only been on the job since May, and he still has work to do. Before he and the relevant decision-makers ascertain the best fit for their operation, they first have to determine exactly what that operation's going to look like.
The organization is flush with cap space for the foreseeable future, and we'll assume it winds up with some premium draft position along the way. Though it's far too soon to make any firm predictions about what those opportunities yield, Philadelphia has significant control over what direction its rebuild takes. As it solidifies that direction, finding the right coaches becomes easier.
Even if Hinkie could have talked someone like George Karl into this job, coaches of that stature already have ideas about what kind of players they want and which coaching staff should be at their side.
Hinkie wasn't hired to carry out the dictates of a coaching great. He wasn't hired to be another superfluous cook in a kitchen full thereof.
“I’m only trying to do what I think is right,” Hinkie said, “which is to build something that our owners want and I think that I want and I think our fans want – which is to build something that is lasting and build something that is special with a capital ‘S.’”
Barkley's right about this much. Things won't be pretty come November, and the protracted coaching search will probably have a little something to do with it. But things wouldn't have been pretty with a coach already in hand either, and Sam Hinkie wouldn't have it any other way.
This isn't about November.
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