With members of Philadelphia 76ers management seemingly growing impatient with the length of the rebuild, apparently their plan is to become the mid-2000s Phoenix Suns. Less than a week after the surprising announcement that former Suns GM/owner Jerry Colangelo was joining the executive team, the Sixers are now “engaging Mike D’Antoni in talks to join Brett Brown’s staff as associate head coach,” according to a report from Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowki.
What’s next, Steve Nash brought in to mentor T.J. McConnell? Trades for Joe Johnson and Amar’e Stoudemire to bring in that much-discussed veteran leadership? Personally, I’m fine with whatever happens if it results in Jack McCallum being embedded within the team for the next year.
While the Jerry Colangelo era hasn’t yet resulted in a major change to the roster (keep that phone off silent, Elton Brand), a potential D’Antoni hire would be the first clear move with Colangelo’s fingerprints on it. The relationship between the two goes back to their Phoenix days, where D’Antoni was head coach for five seasons from 2003 to 2008. Behind their famous “Seven Seconds or Less” offense, the Suns made four straight playoff appearances and two straight conference finals, with D’Antoni winning NBA Coach of the Year in 2005. The Colangelo-D’Antoni connection also stems from USA Basketball, with D’Antoni having served as an assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski for both the 2006 FIBA World Championship and 2012 London Olympics.
More recently, things have been less rosy on the D’Antoni resume. From 2008 to 2014, he roamed the sidelines for six seasons as the head coach of the New York Knicks, and then, the Los Angeles Lakers. Unlike his days helming the Suns, D’Antoni’s time in the glamorous bicoastal markets were less successful. Those teams finished with winning records in just two of the six seasons, each of which concluded with getting swept in the first round of the playoffs.
From D’Antoni’s perspective, if he could be seen as helping turn around what’s been a moribund Philadelphia offense, it could serve as a springboard for him to re-enter the NBA head coaching ranks. Such a promotion would have to be elsewhere, as the Sixers just committed to current head coach Brett Brown through the 2019 season.
While any deal has yet to be made official, D’Antoni’s inclusion on the coaching staff would seemingly signal management’s desire to get back to playing a faster style. After playing at the fastest pace in the league in Brett Brown’s initial 2013-14 season, the Sixers have since dropped to ninth, and then 11th in the league the past two seasons. Particularly of interest, Jahlil Okafor has played at the slowest pace of any Sixers player this season. Could that disconnect indicate he’d eventually be the odd man out in what may be deemed any unworkable frontcourt partnership between he and Nerlens Noel? It’s certainly something to keep an eye on should D’Antoni officially enter the picture.
As GM Sam Hinkie said to Zach Lowe in their interview Friday, “adding one more voice will make the conversation richer.” He was speaking about Jerry Colangelo, but the same can certainly apply to Mike D’Antoni. In an effort to speed up what’s been a prolonged losing period, Sixers management is assembling a great deal of talent off the court. Time will tell whether talent on the court will follow.