Has Mike D’Antoni really emerged as the front-runner for the 76ers' head-coaching vacancy even though his style doesn’t fit the team?
Or is this just a smokescreen?
Multiple league sources say it’s for real.
Sources have confirmed the team will interview the former Houston Rockets coach in the coming days. One source said the interview could come as early Wednesday. However, Sixers sources denied D’Antoni would interview that day. Asked if he would interview Thursday, sources said the dates of interviews have yet to be determined.
However, a league source said Tuesday that D’Antoni was preparing to head to this area to interview for the job.
The Sixers are also expected to interview former Oklahoma City Thunder coach Billy Donovan this week. Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Ty Lue is among the other candidates to replace Brett Brown, who was fired Aug. 24.
But a league source said the job could be D’Antoni’s to lose. The source said the 69-year-old would have to bomb his interview with the Sixers owners not to be offered the job, and said D’Antoni is the candidate they want. A team source denied that, saying the ownership won’t know who it wants until candidates are interviewed.
D’Antoni became a Sixers candidate on Sunday, one day after his Rockets contract expired and he decided to explore his options. His leaving Houston on the heels of losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the second round of the playoffs was no surprise.
For the past several months, the expectation was that D’Antoni would be hired by the Indiana Pacers, who fired Nate McMillan on Aug. 26. Sources have said McMillan’s coaching style wore on the players. He’s a no-nonsense guy, capable of shaking players out of their comfort zones, and has strict rules.
Indiana is thought to feel that D’Antoni could turn shooting guard Victor Oladipo into James Harden 2.0, according to sources. Harden, as a Rockets shooting guard, won the 2017-18 league MVP award under D’Antoni. He’s also expected to be named a first-team All-NBA selection for the fourth straight season.
Some might think the coach and the Sixers' mutual attraction was a negotiating ploy for both parties, and that the Sixers could use interest in D’Antoni as a way to lower Lue’s asking price of $7 million and D’Antoni could use the Sixers' interest as a way to raise his price tag. But sources are saying he backed away from the Pacers gig because the Sixers' interest is real.
On paper, D’Antoni’s freewheeling coaching style doesn’t fit well with the Sixers. The Rockets played without a center for most the season while guard Harden and Russell Westbrook dominated the ball. More often that not, all of the players in the lineup would be positioned in the perimeter.
That wouldn’t work with the Sixers.
Joel Embiid, their best player, is a 7-foot-2 center. The team would have to play through him. Meanwhile, point guard Ben Simmons, their second-best player, shies away from shooting in the perimeter. The Sixers' next best players are 6-9 forward Tobias Harris and 6-10 power forward Al Horford. So the towering Sixers are completely different from D’Antoni’s small squad in Houston.
But he is familiar with the Sixers organization, having served five months as the team’s associate head coach during the 2015-16 season. The Rockets hired him on June 1, 2016. The Sixers players loved him, and some were sad when he left to accept the Rockets' coaching position. He previously served as a head coach with the Lakers, Knicks, Suns, and Nuggets.
Meanwhile, Donovan is also among the leading candidates for the Chicago Bulls' job. Former Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson and Sixers assistant Ime Udoka are also candidates.
Donovan became a Sixers candidate on Sept. 8 after it was announced that he and the Thunder agreed to not extend his contract. He was named co-coach of the year with Milwaukee Bucks' Mike Budenholzer this season by the National Basketball Coaches Association.
It was the last season of the five-year deal Donovan signed with the Thunder after a successful stint at the University of Florida, where Horford won back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007 under Donovan.
Lue, however, is the only coach with an NBA championship pedigree. As a player with the Los Angeles Lakers, he was part of title teams in 2000 and 2001. Also, he was Cleveland’s coach when the Cavaliers won their only NBA title in 2016 and took them to the Finals the next two years as well.