Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers' Off-Season: #2. Who's Coaching?

Ten Biggest Questions for the Sixers' Off-Season: #2. Who's Coaching?

Eleven. That's how many NBA teams fired or let go of their coaches this off-season--a whopping six of whom even made the playoffs last year, if you can believe that. A handful of those teams have already filled their vacacines--Cleveland with Mike Brown, Sacramento with Mike Malone, Atlanta with Mike Budenholzer--but the majority still remain open, meaning that the 76ers have a whole lot of competition to land their ideal candidate to replace Doug Collins as the franchise's new head coach next year.

What's more, we don't really have any idea who that ideal candidate even is. Aside from a couple whispers from anonymous sources about who the team might be interested in, we haven't gotten much insight about who Sam Hinkie and company are actually pursuing as our new fearless leader--they haven't interviewed anyone yet, nor have they made obvious advances on anyone. So all we can really do is guess about who they're looking at, based on those telephone-line rumors and arguable common sense.

[10 Biggest Questions: 10. What are we now and where are we going? | 9. Is Thad Young untouchable? | 8. Is Spencer Hawes good enough for our starting Center? | 7. Are any of our mid-level FAs worth re-signing? | 6. What players are worth trading for? | 5. Free agent targets? | 4. What to do with Evan Turner? | 3. Who are we gonna draft?]

Here's some of those rumored and likely names, many of whom are certainly on more wishlists than just that of the Sixers:

George Karl. Probably the most recognizable (and unlikely) name to suddenly be on the market, it was announced yesterday that Karl would not be returning for his final year of coaching with the Denver Nuggets, due to dispute over a contract extension. Karl has a resume easily unparalleled on the open market--the seventh-most wins in NBA history, a 60% career winning percentage, a Finals appearance in 1996 with the Sonics, and even some Coach of the Year hardware won this last year with the Nuggets, when he lead them to a franchise-best 567wins. Grantland's Zach Lowe even tweeted that it "would not shock me at all if the Sixers' revamped front office called Karl ASAP."

Does he make sense for the Sixers, though? Well, it depends on how competitive the Sixers plan on being next year--if they're doing a modest re-stock and hope to push for the playoffs, Karl would make sense, since he's long excelled at squeezing regular-season wins out of teams of varying degrees of talent (though his relative lack of playoff success has left him under fire on occasion). I'm not sure if or why Karl would want to stick around for a long-term rebuild in Philly, however, if that's where we're headed, and I'm not sure that a young team like the Sixers will likely have will respond to an older coach (Karl turned 62 in May) more adept at handling veterans.

"George Karl doesn't seem to be the "right" coach for the Sixers," wrote Sean O'Connor of Liberty Ballers of the recently fired coach. "But we might not find that perfect fit in the end, and if we can't find one, I'm not sure there's a better placeholder out there." I tend to concur.

Lionel Hollins. Hollins is largely in the same boat as Karl--a well-respected coach coming off an excellent year, taking the Memphis Grizzlies to a franchise-best 56 wins and an unexpected Conference Finals appearance, who parted ways with his former employers over money considerations. Hollins' reputation as a tough, defensive-minded coach is one of the league's best, and his Grizzlies have improved in winning percentage every year since he took over in 2009, in addition to pulling off a couple playoff upsets where they were the lower-seeded team.

However, Hollins would likely make for an odd fit in Philadelphia, both for the Sixers' questionable defensive personnel (despite the occasionally similar box scores, no one will ever mistake Spencer Hawes for Marc Gasol), and their supposed new analytical bent under GM Sam Hinkie. More than any other head coach in the league (except maybe the one we just got rid of), Hollins has expressed a distaste for using advanced stats to dictate personnel moves--he was vocal against the team's trade of leading scorer Rudy Gay, despite the numbers showing that Gay's inefficiency was actually making him a detriment to his team's offense--and that will likely lead to clashes with Hinkie in the long run. Probably best to stay away here.

Brian Shaw. The Pacers' assistant coach has gotten a fair share of the credit for the team's growth from rebuilding outfit to championship contender over the last few years, recently culminating in Indiana's impressive seven-game staredown of the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Shaw has long been the bridesmaid as pertains to head coaching, spending seven years waiting to succeed Phil Jackson in Los Angeles but being passed over for Mike Brown, but this time, he seems a certain bet to land one of the many coaching vacancies around the league, having already been targeted by both the Nets and Clippers, arguably two of the sexiest remaining openings.

Shaw has proven his mettle with establishing defense and developing young players, two things the Sixers are obviously in need of. He's unproven as a head coach, and at 47 he's still relatively young for the position, but not nearly as young or unproven as Frank Vogel was when he was promoted to the Pacers' top dog in 2011, and he's quickly grown into one of the league's best coaches. The Sixers would be lucky to land Shaw, but it's hard to imagine him eschewing a big market and talent-stocked roster like those shared by the Nets and Clippers for the murky on-and-off-court situation in Philly. Here's hoping that Hinkie is good with a sales pitch.

Chris Finch. No, not David Brent's obnoxious bully friend from the UK Office--though he has coached the British national team, it'd be great to be able to use the puns and "Fiiinchyyyyyyy" shouts if he got the job--but rather, a Houston Rockets assistant coach and former head coach of the Rockets' D-League affiliate in Rio Grande. Zach Lowe (yes, him again) reports that Hinkie has a strong working relationship with the assistant from their days together in H-Town, and calls him a "name to watch" in the Sixers' coaching hunt.

Without any real NBA coaching experience to speak of, it's not easy to do much evaluating on Finch, but at 43 he's also fairly young, and he could be an interesting long-term play for Hinkie, who might not be trying to win all that many games in the next few regular seasons anyway. Plus, he can probably throw a shoe over the roof of a pub, no problem.

Michael Curry. During the Sixers' old administration, for whom not rocking the boat frequently seemed a top priority, assistant coach Michael Curry seemed a likely candidate to replace Doug Collins once it became obvious his time in Philly was coming to an end. A former player himself, Curry has a rep as something of a players' coach, and he's gotten the endorsement of both the departing Collins and even a couple of the Sixers' key young players to be the Sixers' new commander-in-chief. ("I've known him for the last three years," said Jrue Holiday. "He's somebody I trust, and somebody I'd love as a head coach.")

However, with Hinkie--who had nothing to do with the choosing of either Collins or Curry on the Sixers' coaching staff--now in charge, it seems unlikely to me that he'd just promote in-house for consistency's sake. Not to mention that Curry has advanced from assistant to head coach once before, and that didn't go so well--he was steering the ship the year the Pistons crash-landed from perennial playoff contender to quasi-rebuilding mess, though that probably had more to do with the Chauncey Billups / Allen Iverson trade they made with Denver than anything Curry did in charge.

Larry Brown. Only mentioned due to recent reports linking the Sixers to the coach that took them to the Finals back in 2001, though Brown himself has downplayed such reports. Such a backwards-looking move would be perplexing for the Sixers at this point--not to mention that if Doug Collins was starting to grate on younger players, Brown's isn't exactly the voice they're gonna want to hear next--so let's hope it's more rumor than anything else.

Nate McMillan. Only mentioned because my father is weirdly deadset on the Sixers targeting the former Blazers coach, and I don't have a particularly good reason why they shouldn't.

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Personally, of the choices mentioned--and lord knows there are probably dozens of other names out there that are equally plausible--I'd probably be most pleased with the Sixers landing Shaw, though failing that, I'd prefer a roll of the dice on an unproven name like Finch's rather than an established name like Karl or (shudder) Brown. Always hard to predict with these things, though, so we'll just have to wait and see who's actually on the list of names on Hinkie's computer print-out when he finally emerges from the Sixers' war room to begin his search.

Villanova's Kpassagnon speaks softly but earns NFL scouts' attention

Villanova's Kpassagnon speaks softly but earns NFL scouts' attention

As the rain poured down on him, the 6-foot-7, 290-pound defensive lineman lumbered off the field at Villanova Stadium, a picture of dripping wet intimidation.

And then he spoke.

“I don’t really like the rain,” the Villanova senior said softly.

Then, he thought about the Wildcats’ trip to freezing South Dakota for a second-round FCS playoff matchup with South Dakota State on Saturday (3 p.m., ESPN3).

“I don’t like the cold, either.”

Meet Tanoh Kpassagnon, a quiet, articulate, intellectual business school student who doubles as one of the fiercest football players in Villanova history and a big-time NFL Draft prospect.

“He’s a bit of an anomaly,” Villanova defensive line coach Joe Trainer said. “He almost has that California chill mode to him. One of the first thing I tell scouts is he’s not that alpha male who’s gonna come up and go, ‘Hey, dawg, what’s going on, man?’ He’s going to wow you physically but he’s not gonna come out of his skin with personality. A lot of times people initially mistake that for softness but he definitely has an understated toughness and hardness about him that has served him well.”

It’s also served Villanova well as the No. 9 Wildcats rode their gentle giant to an 8-3 regular-season record, their sixth playoff berth in nine years and an opening-round 31-21 win over Saint Francis last week.

One of the top defensive players in the Football Championship Subdivision, Kpassagnon was named the CAA Defensive Player of the Year and recently earned an invite to January’s Reese’s Senior Bowl. He led the league in the regular season with 19 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks, while adding two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, one blocked kick and a touchdown.

And his stock may continue to rise with a good performance in Saturday’s Top 10 showdown against No. 7 South Dakota State.

“It’s more TV time, just showing we’re good as a team,” he said when asked about the extra playoff exposure. “I was just talking to the Sauce Squad — that’s what we call the defensive line — about our goals for the year and we had nothing except a national championship on our mind. That’s something that’s been ingrained in our minds, and we’re gonna do everything we can right now in order to reach it.”

The fact that Kpassagnon quickly turned the attention from himself to the team is indicative of how he’s handled his growing reputation around the country. According to Trainer, scouts from every NFL team have been to a Villanova practice or game at least twice this year with most teams coming three times. There have even been four or five NFL general managers at Villanova Stadium to see Kpassagnon, who retiring head coach Andy Talley has called “probably the greatest player we’ve ever had” in his 37 years at the helm.

But while calling the presence of scouts “nice,” Kpassagnon also said he “doesn’t really think about it too much” — at least not until the season ends.

“He’s a very grounded guy,” Trainer said. “The greatest compliment I can give him in terms of non-measurables is he’s as consistent of a player as I’ve ever been around. I mean that not in a performance standpoint but in a life standpoint. A lot of times young kids today are really high and then really low. He’s just steady as the day is long, and he takes everything in stride. His mom and dad have done a great job with him.” 

It’s also because of his parents, both of whom originally hail from Africa, that Kpassagnon isn’t laser focused on the NFL. His mother is a chemical scientist and his father an economist and both stressed education above sports. He never even watched any sports as a kid and didn’t begin playing football until the sixth grade.

Later, he morphed into a three-sport star at Wissahickon High, playing basketball and running track on top of his blossoming football career. But he never took his eyes off the books. A finance major with minors in accounting and entrepreneurship in the Villanova School of Business, he already has four job offers to go along with very good grades. And he likes to study the game of football too, taking pride in maybe finding things that others can’t on film.

“They have a highly skilled backfield but I’ve been paying attention to their line mostly, trying to see their tendencies, trying to see if they have any tells,” Kpassagnon said of the South Dakota State offense. “I think I picked up on a couple.”

He laughed, then added: “I’ll keep that a secret for now.”

No matter what happens Saturday in South Dakota, it’s clear that the secret on Kpassagnon is out. And judging by how much he’s been scouted — and his place on several mock drafts — it’s not a question of if he gets drafted but what round.

“I think he’s the best prospect that this league has ever had in all of my time here,” said Trainer, who coached at Villanova from 1997 to 2004 before becoming the head coach at Millersville and then Rhode Island, returning to ’Nova in 2014. “He’s a special talent whose best football is ahead of him. And he’s not even close to his ceiling.”

Sixers-Magic 5 things: Hoping for a dry court with rested roster

Sixers-Magic 5 things: Hoping for a dry court with rested roster

The Sixers (4-14) will tip off against the Orlando Magic (7-12) at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday night (7 p.m./CSN and CSNPhilly.com).

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Floored
Let's try this again.

The Sixers will return to the Wells Fargo Center court for the first time since Wednesday's game against the Sacramento Kings was postponed because of moisture on the floor.

While the Sixers were frustrated that they couldn't face the Kings, the team was also happy that player safety was made the top priority in the postponement decision.

"It was disappointing not to play," head coach Brett Brown said after practice on Thursday. "It got to a stage the longer that it went and it was being prolonged and prolonged, I'm glad that ultimately we didn't play."

2. Rested and ready
The postponement of Wednesday's game means the Sixers haven't played since Monday's road loss to the Toronto Raptors.

Center Joel Embiid should be even more rested than his teammates since he didn't make the trip north of the border because it was the second game of a back-to-back set.

When Embiid does return to action Friday against the Magic, he will have a little more freedom. The NBA's Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month had his minutes restriction raised from 24 to 28 earlier this week.

That should only mean good things for Embiid, who turned in a strong effort when the Sixers faced off against the Magic earlier this season. Embiid recorded 18 points and 10 boards for his first-ever double-double in a 103-101 loss to Orlando back on Nov. 1.

3. Protection plan
Perhaps Embiid's bump in minutes will help the Sixers better protect the paint this time around.

During the season's first meeting, in which the Sixers blew an 18-point lead, the Magic scored a massive 60 points in the paint. Former Sixer Nikola Vucevic and Serge Ibaka led the way with 45 combined points.

The Sixers can't allow that type of production inside, especially from a team that ranks 25th in the league with an average of 39.5 points in the paint per game.

4. Injuries
Jerryd Bayless (wrist), Nerlens Noel (knee) and Ben Simmons (foot) are out for the Sixers.

Former Sixer Jodie Meeks (foot) is a game-time decision for the Magic.

5. This and that
- The Sixers have lost three straight to the Magic.

- Vucevic has averaged 20.3 points and 13.2 rebounds against the Sixers during his career.

- Dario Saric scored a career-high 21 points on 9 of 14 shooting in the season's first clash.