After three years under Doug Collins, who seemingly has reached the end of his head coaching career, it appears the Sixers are now looking for someone ready to begin one.
According to sources, Golden State Warriors assistant coach Mike Malone is high on the Sixers' list to replace Collins as head coach, as is Indiana Pacers associate head coach Brian Shaw.
When the Sixers' search for Eddie Jordan's replacement took place in the spring of 2010, the list included Jeff Van Gundy, Dwane Casey, Tom Thibodeau, Monty Williams and Mark Jackson. On a list of dark horse candidates was Malone, then an assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers under Mike Brown.
Fast forward to 2013 and look where those past candidates are. Van Gundy has remained in the broadcast booth, where he likely will stay. Casey became head coach of the Toronto Raptors. Thibodeau, after 18 years as an assistant coach, landed with the Bulls. Williams is head coach of New Orleans, and Jackson jumped from the broadcast booth to the sideline as head coach of the Golden State Warriors.
Malone, 43, did not land a head-coaching job but did go with Williams to New Orleans, where he showed his defensive-minded talents, helping the Hornets finish fifth in fewest points allowed his lone season on that staff.
The following summer Malone, whose father Brendan was an NBA coach in Toronto and Cleveland, interviewed for the head-coaching position in Houston and Golden State. When he did not get hired at either place, Jackson asked him to be his lead assistant with the Warriors, a plan Jackson had long had in mind because he had that much respect for Malone’s knowledge and commitment to the game.
In their two years in Northern California, the Jackson-Malone tandem took a 23-43 team their first year and turned it into a 47-35 team this season.
Tuesday night the Warriors did the unlikely. After losing all-star David Lee to a torn hip flexor, they evened their series with the Denver Nuggets, 1-1. Jackson was being hailed postgame for going with a three-guard lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jarret Jack; the trio combined for 77 points, 22 assists and 11 rebounds.
Jackson has made a seamless transition from describing the action to walking the sideline. And Malone has been sitting next to him all along.
Malone’s time is coming when he takes the next step and runs his own team. The Sixers will have competition in trying to hire him. Should he turn out to be their frontrunner, timing and situation will have a huge say in this process.
With Brown being named the successor to Byron Scott in Cleveland, there are currently three vacant NBA coaching positions: Philadelphia, Detroit and Charlotte. There are two guys coaching with "interim" in their title: P.J. Carlesimo in Brooklyn, which is tied 1-1 in a series with Chicago, and Jim Boylan, whose Milwaukee Bucks trail the Heat, 2-0. Both gentlemen may be awarded contract extensions, but at this time nothing is certain.
Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro has an unknown future when his contract expires this summer despite having won 56 games and landing the fourth seed in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.
The same can be said for Larry Drew in Atlanta, who has taken the Hawks to the postseason each of his three years at the helm and posted a combined record of 128-102.
Finding a perfect match is a two-way street. Cleveland acted swiftly to avoid competition in hiring Brown for a second time; Brown is a Columbus, Ohio native.
Collins was a great fit for the Sixers when he came to the franchise that had drafted him No. 1 overall in the spring of 1973. He was 58 years old at the time. He was refreshed after having been a broadcaster for the previous eight years. And his passionate, fiery demeanor was a stark contrast to Jordan’s laid back approach.
Without a superstar on the roster Collins became the face of the franchise. The Sixers' marketing slogan was "Passionate. Intense. Proud." Collins' personality fit what they were selling.
But with last summer’s splash of trading for a star in the past -- and not a pleasant past given that Andrew Bynum never played a game and will likely sign elsewhere this summer as a free agent -- a fresh, well thought-out start to a new tenure of Sixers basketball has to begin with the head coaching selection.
By all accounts the Sixers are looking for the next up-and-coming basketball mind. They are looking for a guy who is sitting next to a head coach currently and making him better because of his own talents.
And like Malone, the 47-year-old Shaw has interviewed for past head coaching positions, most notably the Lakers job two years ago that went to Brown, even though Shaw had a rich history as a Lakers player and was an assistant to Phil Jackson.
Mike Budenholzer has been with the San Antonio Spurs for 18 years and spent the last five as Gregg Popovich’s top assistant. He is certainly a strong candidate, having been part of a winning program his whole career. Some say when Popovich steps down, whenever that may be, Budenholzer is the heir apparent and therefore staying put is his plan. But if he will interview, it is a must do.
Michael Curry, who was Collins' associate head coach, has head coaching experience and was a finalist for the Orlando job last summer, will certainly throw his name in the hat.
Here are other names that will surface: Nate McMillan, who has been a head coach with the Seattle SuperSonics and Portland Trail Blazers, has a winning percentage of .514 in 12 seasons and is just 48 years old. He does not fit the up-and-coming mold, but he is also not what people consider a “recycled” name.
Names that are established and available are Jeff Van Gundy and Stan Van Gundy, as well as Lawrence Frank and Scott; the latter two were just released last week from their current head-coaching posts in Detroit and Cleveland, respectively.
The search is on.