Sixers coaching search: Monty Williams, Nick Nurse, Sam Cassell among candidates

A rundown on initial known candidates in Sixers' coaching search originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Three years later, it’s time for another Sixers search.

With Doc Rivers out, president of basketball operations Daryl Morey is set to make his first head coaching hire in Philadelphia. Morey took the job approximately a month after Rivers joined the Sixers in 2020.

Who’s the best choice to replace Rivers? Mike Budenholzer, Sam Cassell, Mike D’Antoni, Nick Nurse, Frank Vogel and Monty Williams are expected to be candidates, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark confirmed. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported that initial list.

Here’s a rundown on those coaches:

Mike Budenholzer 

Budenholzer got fired by the Bucks just two seasons after coaching Milwaukee to the NBA title.

The Bucks went 58-24 this year during the regular season but dropped their first-round playoff series to the Heat in five games. Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo suffered a back injury in Game 1 and missed the next two contests. Milwaukee collapsed and made multiple baffling mistakes down the stretch of its Game 5 overtime loss. In general, Budenholzer faced criticism for his lack of adjustments during the playoffs.

However, there’s no question he's a well-credentialed candidate. Budenholzer was a longtime assistant for Gregg Popovich with the Spurs (and became close friends with Brett Brown in San Antonio). He won his first of two Coach of the Year awards in 2014-15 for leading the Hawks to 60 wins. With big man Brook Lopez’s drop coverage foundational, the Bucks were often strong defensively under Budenholzer. Across five seasons as Milwaukee’s head coach, he had a 69.3 winning percentage.

Sam Cassell 

Cassell is already very familiar with all the key figures in Philadelphia.

This season was his ninth in a row on Rivers’ staff. Before his time with the Clippers and Sixers, Cassell served as a Wizards assistant.

A perpetually chatty, energetic personality who hit clutch shots, loved the mid-range, and won three NBA championships as a player, the 53-year-old has yet to be a head coach. Impressively, he’s helped to develop the games of Tyrese Maxey, John Wall, Bradley Beal and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. James Harden has called Cassell a “mentor” and worked with him on expanding his variety of dependable offensive options, including mid-range jumpers and catch-and-shoot three-pointers.

There’s significant uncertainty with any first-time head coach, but Cassell has considerable experience and the Sixers’ front office knows plenty about him already.

Mike D’Antoni 

De’Antoni departed the Rockets after Houston’s 2020 second-round loss to the Lakers, Since then, he’s served as a Nets assistant and a Pelicans coaching advisor.

D’Antoni, 72, has ample material on his résumé before that, but his connections with Morey and Harden are most notable. He also knows Joel Embiid from his stint as Sixers associate head coach under Brown in the 2015-16 season.

Harden led the league in scoring three times under D’Antoni and thrived in an offense centered almost entirely around his isolation talents. If the Sixers were to hire D’Antoni, that would presumably coincide with Harden returning to the Sixers in some form. The 33-year-old has a $35.6 million player option for next season.

Nick Nurse 

A little over a year ago, Embiid was publicly chiding Nurse for his complaints about the officiating during the Sixers’ second-round matchup against the Raptors.

Toronto ultimately lost that series in six games, fell to the Bulls in the play-in tournament this season, and now is looking for a new head coach. Before a March 31 game this year in Philadelphia, Nurse indicated he was unsure about his future with the Raptors and planned to reflect after the season. In April, Toronto fired the coach of its championship-winning 2018-19 team.

As the Sixers understand from their playoff meetings with Nurse, he’s glad to throw aggressive, scramble-heavy, unusual defensive schemes at opponents. His unique path to Raptors head coach included experience as a player-coach in the British Basketball League and a 2013 D League championship run with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Houston’s D League affiliate. Morey was Rockets general manager at the time.

Frank Vogel

A native of Wildwood, New Jersey, Vogel played basketball at Juniata College. He started his coaching career by learning from Rick Pitino as a University of Kentucky graduate assistant and Celtics video coordinator.

Vogel later spent the 2004-05 season as a Sixers assistant. He’s been a head coach for the Pacers, Magic and Lakers. His 2019-20 Los Angeles team won the NBA title.

Vogel is known as a diligent coach who values defense. An intense, high-pressure, star-centric environment would not be new to him.

Monty Williams 

Williams has played one season (2002-03) and coached one season (2018-19) as a Sixer.

He did unequivocally tremendous work following that lone year on Brown’s staff. After going 8-0 in the NBA’s Disney World bubble, Williams’ Suns won the Western Conference the next year. In the 2021-22 campaign, Phoenix earned 64 regular-season victories and Williams was named Coach of the Year.

Of course, Williams’ stint with the Suns wasn’t spotless. He appeared to have a bumpy relationship with center Deandre Ayton. The Suns’ final loss in each of the last two years was a serious blowout.

Regardless, it seems clear Williams is among the top coaches currently without a job.