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.

Inside Doop: Union inch closer to playoffs after tie in Toronto

Inside Doop: Union inch closer to playoffs after tie in Toronto

The Union left the country for a big game over the weekend and did not return to the United States with a win as they hoped.

But they did come back with a hard-earned point against the top team in the conference as well as the first MLS goal from their marquee summer signing, while inching closer to the playoffs. Here’s a look at Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the Toronto FC and what lies ahead with three regular-season games left.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. It took Alejandro Bedoya almost two months to score his first MLS goal … but what a goal it was. After collecting a pass from Fabian Herbers midway through the first half (just barely avoiding being offside), the U.S. national team starter took one dribble and fooled goalkeeper Clint Irwin with a clever chip over his head and into the net. You don’t see those kind of chip goals often and when you do, they’re usually delivered by big-time playmakers — the kind of guys the Union don’t usually have but do now with Bedoya. Head coach Jim Curtin’s decision to play Bedoya at the No. 10 attacking midfield spot with Tranquillo Barnetta injured also paid big dividends and showed the Union have more midfield options going into the playoffs … and into next season.

2. Coming into the game, a big storyline centered around center back Ken Tribbett, who got the start at center back about a month after getting pulled at halftime vs. Toronto. Another centered around right back Keegan Rosenberry, who was trying to bounce back from a rare off game in Portland the previous week. But, in the end, both players had some very good moments and helped limit the Toronto attack for much of the game, especially in the first half. Much of that had to do with another Curtin lineup decision as the Union head coach put two defensive-minded midfielders in front of the backline: Warren Creavalle, who also had a great hustle play that nearly led to a second goal right before halftime, and Brian Carroll, who’s now made two straight starts after missing six straight games with Plantar fasciitis.

3. Saturday’s game didn’t end without some late fireworks from the league’s hottest player, Jozy Altidore. Riding an eight-goals-in-nine-games streak coming in, the U.S. national team star struck the post in the 87th minute and was taken down in the box by C.J. Sapong in stoppage time on what initially looked to be a clear penalty. If you look at the replay from Sapong’s perspective, however, you could probably make the case that Sapong was going for the ball before getting impeded by Altidore. Either way, the idea of a ref not making a call that would likely decide a game (on a play that wasn’t a real goal-scoring opportunity) took some guts, especially as he got lambasted from the home team and its fans.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The brutal three-game road trip ends Saturday as the Union, after a loss in Portland and tie in Toronto, take on the rival New York Red Bulls (7 p.m., The Comcast Network). As conservative as it might sound, another point would probably make it a mildly successful trip considering the caliber of opponent. Either way, the Union’s playoff hopes and seeding will likely come down to their final two home games against Orlando and the Red Bulls. At this point, the best they can likely hope for is to hold off Montreal, D.C. United and New England for the No. 4 seed in the East, which would ensure them an opening-round home game. Luckily for them, Montreal and New England both lost this weekend, and although D.C. picked up a big win, they did so against another team in the playoff hunt in Orlando.

2. Another week means another question about captain Maurice Edu’s health. It’s now been more than two months since he returned to the practice field and almost a month since he started playing rehab games with the Bethlehem Steel. With only three games left in the season, it’s hard to see him becoming a starter after being out so long with a stress fracture. It also doesn’t help his case that Carroll and Creavalle are both playing well at his position. But if Edu’s healthy, there’s no sense not utilizing him as a midfield reserve or even as an emergency defensive replacement. The question, as always: is this the week he finally makes his season debut?

3. While Curtin’s lineup decisions played well in Toronto, one interesting one was not playing Roland Alberg. With Barnetta out, many Union fans probably expected Alberg to start at the No. 10 position — or, at the very least, come off the bench. But with the Union never falling behind, Curtin probably didn’t feel the need to bring in such an offensive-minded player. It was an understandable move considering the context but one that was surely disappointing for Alberg, who despite having nine goals in just over 1,000 minutes, has played only 19 minutes over the last three games and has started only once since the beginning of August. By now, you have to wonder what role the dynamic Dutchman will have in the playoffs — if he has one at all.

Stat of the week
With his seventh assist, the rookie Herbers moved into the top 10 in franchise history in career assists. He’s tied for ninth all time with Barnetta, Alejandro Moreno and Conor Casey.

Quote of the week
“I kind of even surprised myself.”

— Alejandro Bedoya, on his first MLS goal

Player of the week
Gotta give it to the guy who scored one of the best goals of the Union’s season, right? The Union now hope there’s more to come from Bedoya during the final stretch of the 2016 season.

Nerlens Noel on Sixers' frontcourt logjam: 'I don't see a way it can work'

Nerlens Noel on Sixers' frontcourt logjam: 'I don't see a way it can work'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Nerlens Noel is standing his ground.

After saying that the Sixers' entering the season with three starting-caliber centers (himself, Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid) "doesn't make sense," Noel didn't back down from his stance during the team's annual media day.  

"I don't see a way it can work," Noel said Monday. "It's just a logjam. You have three young, talented centers that can play 30-plus minutes a night." 

The Sixers attempted to play with two bigs in Noel and Okafor last season but had little success. Now that Embiid is finally healthy, the fit to the puzzle doesn't figure to get any better.

Reports swirled during the offseason that the Sixers were looking to trade either Noel or Okafor to add backcourt help to the woeful franchise, but nothing came to fruition.

"Things need to get situated," Noel said. "I think things obviously need to be moved around, someone needs to be moved around. It's just a tough situation. I can't really say too much because I have no say in the matter, so obviously that's for who can handle the situation in the right manner.

"I've gone through a whole lot. Probably the most, arguably, that any player has gone through in the NBA in losing. It's a tough situation to still be in. Year by year, to see things get more difficult to show your value. Year by year, it's always been something. It's really at a point where it's just a lot."

Bryan Colangelo said he understands Noel's viewpoint. However, the Sixers' president said he is in no rush to trade any of the centers and will wait the situation out.

"It’s not disappointing. It’s understandable," Colangelo said. "I think Nerlens actually did a pretty good job sizing up what we have, which is a lot of depth and a lot of talent at that position."

Despite each of the three centers being early in their career, Noel, who is in the final year of his rookie contract, doesn't want to hold off to see if the trio can actually mesh on the floor.

"I can't say I do really understand that (wait-and-see approach)," Noel said. "If you have a group of players, I just don't think it makes too much sense to just still come into the season with such a heavy lineup at the center position. I don't know what there is to wait and see."

Noel made sure to express that he has no issues with Okafor and Embiid and said they are some of his closest friends on the team. But when asked whether he was happy to be a Sixer, Noel deflected.

"I feel good," he said. "I'm all right, I'm in a good place right now."

Sure sounds like it.