Skip to content
Off the Dribble
Link copied to clipboard

Sixers need a head coach with NBA experience who can push Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid | Off the Dribble

Brett Brown was considered a player-friendly coach. So the Sixers might need to go in the other direction.

Mark Jackson, second from left, and Jeff Van Gundy are both known as head coaches who can instill discipline in their superstar players.
Mark Jackson, second from left, and Jeff Van Gundy are both known as head coaches who can instill discipline in their superstar players.Read moreTony Avelar / AP

This promises to be an interesting offseason for the 76ers. Will they be able to reshape the team? Will they try to make another run with the same unit? Can they win with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons as the focal points?

Question after question, but the first thing that needs to be done is to pick a coach to replace Brett Brown, who was fired on Aug. 24. The Sixers can go in many directions.

If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @Sjnard. Thank you for reading.

— Marc Narducci (

Looking at coaches with NBA experience

If general manager Elton Brand is to be taken at his word, then the Sixers plan to enter next season with Simmons and Embiid sharing center stage.

The day after Brown was fired, Brand made clear his intentions regarding his two all-stars: “I am not looking to trade Ben or Joel.”

While Brand has every right to change his mind, he seemed pretty insistent that he didn’t feel now was the time to give up on a 24-year-old, two-time All-Star point guard/point forward and a 26-year-old three-time All-Star center.

So with that in mind, it seems as if this opening is not best suited to a first-time head coach. Nor would it seem to be one for a college head coach.

Frequently, when a coach is fired, the team tries to go in the opposite direction in terms of personality and style. For instance, Brown was considered too easy on his stars and other players. Yet does Brand now go for a taskmaster, somebody who will insist that Simmons attempt three-pointers, and that Embiid doesn’t loaf on defense and is in better condition?

Everybody has seen the names being speculated. Those at the top of the list include Ty Lue, Mark Jackson and Jason Kidd, three former NBA players who enjoyed different degrees of success as head coaches.

Lue won an NBA championship in his first half-season in Cleveland, and lost in the NBA Finals the next two years. When LeBron James departed for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavs began 0-6 in 2018-19 and Lue was fired.

Now an assistant with the Los Angeles Clippers, Lue will be in demand.

Jackson made the playoffs in two of his final three seasons in Golden State, and then the Warriors won three titles and made five straight trips to the NBA finals under his successor, Steve Kerr. Jackson, a tough guy as a player and a coach, has been in broadcasting since. His name often gets mentioned, but no team has invited him back to the bench since.

Kidd, an assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers who had head-coaching stints with Brooklyn and Milwaukee, wants the Sixers job, according to The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey. He is a Hall of Fame point guard, so that should earn him immediate respect.

Can Jeff Van Gundy, who hasn’t coached in the NBA since the 2006-07 season, be coaxed to return to the sidelines, and if so, would he be a good fit? Van Gundy has a reputation of holding stars accountable.

What about Dave Joerger, who had three successful seasons as head coach of Memphis, where he made the playoffs each year, then three frustrating seasons coaching amid front-office dysfunction in Sacramento?

Here is an interesting name: former Sixers assistant Mike D’Antoni. He is on the final year of his contract with the Houston Rockets. D’Antoni has already been mentioned in the rumor mill as a possible candidate in Indiana to replace Nate McMillan, who was recently fired.

D’Antoni plays an uptempo offense that is fun to run, but his teams have never been known to play nearly as much attention on the defensive end.

What about McMillan? He has indicated that he will take a year off. McMillan brings toughness, but his playoff resume (3-16 with Indiana) is why he is unemployed.

Kenny Atkinson surprisingly departed from Brooklyn late in the season. Yet he has a reputation as a developmental coach. Can he take an established team to the next level? Atkinson would make more sense for a team such as the Chicago Bulls.

Mike Brown, the associate head coach the past four seasons with Golden State, had two stints as a head coach in Cleveland, winning one Eastern Conference title. He also coached the Los Angeles Lakers, making the playoffs in his first full season and then was fired after a 1-4 start the next season.

Somebody like Brown or Lue, who both coached the game’s biggest star, LeBron James, might be a candidate because the Sixers have two stars who need to be coached.

Starting five

Philly says no to the Linc and Wells Fargo Center as polling places — but sees another election use. The arena could be used as a mail ballot drop-off site or as an election office for in-person early voting.

David Murphy writes that trading Joel Embiid might be the Sixers’ only way out. Murphy wonders if having a player such as Bradley Beal would be more valuable than Embiid in today’s NBA, which emphasizes the perimeter game.

Embiid will need tough love from the next Sixers coach. His conditioning has been questioned over the years, and the next coach should hold him more accountable.

Darmichael Cole writes how Embiid misses former teammate Jimmy Butler. After Butler’s 40-point game in an opening Eastern Conference semifinal win over Milwaukee, Embiid tweeted a message that shows he would love having Butler in Philadelphia.

Murphy writes that in proposing a taxpayer-funded arena for the Sixers, managing partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer are running a race they know how to win. Sixers ownership is looking to become the latest group of billionaires to take an out-sized slurp from the public trough.

Covington’s progress

Former Sixer and current Houston forward Robert Covington will be competing in a deciding Game 7 on Wednesday (9 p.m.) when the Rockets face the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Rockets play small ball, and the 6-foot-7 Covington is often Houston’s biggest player on the court. Acquired in a four-team trade from Minnesota on Feb. 5, Covington has gone from a losing team to a Rockets squad that would meet the Lakers in the second round with a win Wednesday.

He has started all six postseason games and is averaging 12.0 points and 5. 0 rebounds in 30.2 minutes. Most impressive is that he is shooting 48.6% from three-point range (18-for-37).

Covington’s NBA career began in Houston before he joined the Sixers in the 2014-15 season. His best playoff effort this season came in a 114-80 Game 5 rout of OKC. Covington scored 22 points, shooting 6-for-11 from three-point range.

Eastern Conference semifinals

Here are the dates and results of the Eastern Conference semifinals.


Game 1 – Sunday, Aug. 30, Boston, 112-94.

Game 2 – Tuesday, Sept. 1, Boston, 102-99

Game 3 – Thursday, Sept. 3, 6:30 p.m.

Game 4 – Saturday, Sept. 5, 6:30 p.m.

Game 5* – Monday, Sept. 7

Game 6* – Wednesday, Sept. 9

Game 7* – Friday, Sept. 11


Game 1 – Monday, Aug. 31, Miami, 115-104

Game 2 – Wednesday, Sept. 2, 6:30 p.m.

Game 3 – Friday, Sept. 4, 6:30 p.m

Game 4 – Sunday, Sept. 6, 3:30 p.m.

Game 5* – Tuesday, Sept. 8

Game 6* – Thursday, Sept. 10

Game 7* – Saturday, Sept. 12

*If necessary

Passing the rock

Question: Hey what is the biggest need for the 76ers, a better coach or a better bench? - Edward Robinson from Facebook.

Answer: Excellent question, Edward, and thanks for sending it in. I know I would be taking the easy route by asking if I could say both are equal, but if I have to make the choice, I would say the coach. There is a lot about making the players accountable and to better utilize their talents, so that is on the coach.

The reason this is such a good question is that the Sixers need reinforcements on the bench. Through Monday in the playoffs, they were last among the 16 playoff teams in bench scoring. The Sixers’ bench averaged 17 points in their opening-round sweep against Boston. Granted, with Simmons out, they had to use one of the bench players to start, but still, it is not an inspiring group.

The coach wins out in this question, but only slightly.