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Ball Don't Lie

Why don’t the Philadelphia 76ers have a head coach?

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Sixers owner Josh Harris and Sam Hinkie in a photo that makes me laugh (Getty Images)

Doug Collins stepped down as Philadelphia 76ers head coach, because that’s a thing he does every 36 months, just two days before the NBA playoffs began. That was over three months ago, and though 12 other head coaching vacancies have been filled since then, the Sixers are still working without a lead man to usher the proud franchise into a rebuilding era. New general manager Sam Hinkie has made plenty of moves in the interim, the team certainly isn’t short for candidates, and on top of that it should be noted that we still have nine weeks to go before training camp even starts.

Still, it’s an odd delay. To some, at least, as the falling dominos of the coach-movin’ season tend to fall in short order before the NBA draft pops up in late June. Sixers fans are well aware that the team is attempting to bottom out next year, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a little uneasy about the time off. In a column on Tuesday, Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News wondered why the franchise hasn’t made the move to secure Michael Curry, who was second in command with the 76ers under Collins:

Michael Curry, who served as Collins' associate head coach during his 3-year stint, has been overseeing all basketball activities since Collins' departure. He, along with assistants Aaron McKie and Jeff Capel, are under contract for the upcoming season.

Does the fact that so many other coaching positions have been filled (12) since the Sixers' opening lend to belief that it will be a natural move to promote Curry to the head spot?

After all he has done for the organization since the arrival of new general manager Sam Hinkie, it would seem only natural that Curry, who will turn 45 in August, get the job.

[…]

For management it would, at the very least, be a money-saver, too. If a new coach comes in he would no doubt want to bring in his own staff. That would mean owner Josh Harris would be paying Collins (getting $4.5 million payout), Curry, McKie, Capel, the new coach and his assistants. Seems a bit much for a team that appears to be in a huge transitional stage and isn't expected to compete for anything much this season, except for the highest draft spot.

That is tricky, but this is also old school thinking. The one that tells you that it’s never OK to pay too many coaches all at once. And even though these aren’t our millions to toss around, this is ridiculous.

We’ve seen a real shift in the thinking around the NBA this summer. Assets have been more clearly defined, efficiency is the order of the day, and franchises are paying far closer attention to the sorts of employees they spend their millions on. Toronto GM Masai Ujiri was paid bank to come take over the Raptors, while Coach of the Year George Karl was paid just to go away from Denver, so as not to poison the water as Nuggets coach in a lame duck season. Brandon Jennings remains without a team, while disparate specialized contributors like Mike Dunleavy Jr., Andre Iguodala and Kyle Korver were snapped up soon after the free agency bidding period began.

The GM builds your team. The coach coaches your team. These two people wield a massive amount of influence on the course of your franchise, and whiffing on a hire or going cheap could cost your team a half-decade of years in the wilderness that takes time and patience and even more money to claw out of. And we’re (reportedly) hedging on spending half the average NBA player salary on these candidates?

If you hire the right GM, that executive will keep you out of having to pay average salaries for below average players, or massive salaries for players that don’t deserve it. Hinkie has already significantly hacked away at Philadelphia’s payroll, the team still needs to make roster moves and add rookie contracts as it signs its way up to the NBA’s minimum payroll for next season, and Hinkie is well on his way toward creating a team that will be feasting off of rookie contracts with significant salary cap space for years to come.

Again, Cooney is just spit-balling here regarding the hesitation in the coaching search, we’ve no indication that the Sixers are taking their time because they’re worried about paying too many coaches for a team that, as Cooney points out, Phil Jackson and [pick your own messiah, religious or otherwise] hisself couldn’t take to 40 wins.

It’s also quite possible that the new’ish Sixers owners, after initially casting their lot with a batch of NBA retreads veterans (Ed Stefanski, Tony DiLeo Rod Thorn, Collins) are engaged and interested enough to let Hinkie take his time. The “this team isn’t making the playoffs, anyway”-awareness can be turned into a glass half full situation; Philadelphia can afford to take its time looking for the leader that is going to shape the first few years for these incoming draft picks. You can lose a young player if you don’t nail those first opening stanzas of his career, and the Sixers (as they willingly dive into the lottery) have to be aware of that.

(Or, it could be because Atlanta swooped in to get Mike Budenholzer first and Hinkie doesn’t really like anyone else out there right now.)

As with all rebuilding years, be it an old school approach or an analytic-driven new model, this is a fascinating experiment. And it sure beats shooting for 40 wins, again.

Unless you’re a Philadelphia 76ers fan, of course. Next season is going to be rough, no matter the name of the new coach.

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