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Maybe now enough time has passed to assess the 76ers coaching situation without the emotional, knee-jerk reaction stemming from that, um, embarrassing end-of-season loss.
I'm as guilty as anyone. Right after that, and with all the drama revealed, it was difficult to see clearly through all the words and counter-words. But it's been almost a week. So let's take a look at the options, the thought process, what might happen. Basically, what I'm saying is this blog is speculation, mixed with a little information. A "little" information because that's all that's out there right now. So take it as such.
Going into the playoff series with the Orlando Magic, and even throughout it, all information, discussion, etc. was pointing towards Tony DiLeo returning this season as the Sixers coach. Throughout the series, DiLeo had his guys executing a very smart defensive game plan against the Magic. Look at the first game against the Boston Celtics the other night ... Yes, Boston is depleted, but that was impressive by Orlando, building that huge lead. But what kind of miscalculations did DiLeo make that led to the Game 6 disaster. Did his belief he didn't need to remind his team to stay focused affect the outcome? Could/Should one game -- albeit an awful, awful game -- impact this decision that much?
Did/Does DiLeo deserve to be retained? This question is littered with X-factors. By the numbers, DiLeo had an above-.500 record (32-27 ... is my math right?) with a team that, before he took over, was 9-14. But then we have the X-Factor: Elton Brand. Was the team's struggle to incorporate him what dragged Cheeks down? Did his injury allow DiLeo to have a better record because he didn't go through figuring out how to win with Brand? Or was Brand's injury -- as Ed Stefanski and Tony DiLeo have suggested -- a blow to the Sixers (and DiLeo's) effectiveness? We just don't know the answer to this question. And because we don't, it's hard to judge DiLeo's effectiveness as coach.
But let's look at the pros and cons for DiLeo. First, because the glass is half full, the pros.
1.) By bringing DiLeo back, you're 100 percent avoiding any in-fighting between coach and management. You're guaranteed to have the energy focused on the vision that DiLeo and Stefanski have -- because they have the same vision. If you believe in that vision, then bringing in an outside guy is quite risky. No matter how detailed the discussion is beforehand, you're risking that halfway through a season, the new coach has developed a different vision. DiLeo is known league-wide as a smart, high basketball IQ guy. And I agree with that assessment. How important is it to have a unified vision? Is it more important than having some new blood who will challenge the thought process? I honestly don't know.
2.) DiLeo did well. Now that we can step back from the 25-point loss. You can't argue that DiLeo had this team playing well, but was it often enough? Like we said, how much of that was caused by circumstances Cheeks wasn't given, we won't know. But the team was 40-35 at one point. There was that 14-4 record before the All-Star break. There were glimpses that the team was advancing.
3.) It's safe. That's not what Sixers fans necessarily want to hear, because it seems imperative to get this thing going in the right direction, right now. But let's look at the alternative: signing someone to a significant, lengthy contract (because goodness you can't go with a 1-year deal at this point). That's a risk of time and money, and money and length doesn't guarantee this guy will do anything more than DiLeo has done.
4.) DiLeo didn't have an entire season as his. Don't underestimate how important it is to go through a training camp with the team. When DiLeo came in he was running another guy's offense and defense. He was picking up midstream with another guy's ideas.
So, with DiLeo, you're getting a solid coach, guaranteed drama-free, little risk, but still with upside because we don't know his vision/touch for integrating Elton Brand.
And now, the cons.
1.) No splash. I don't think it's a stretch to say that the Sixers are currently the 4th most popular franchise in the city right now. They did nothing to inspire excitement going into the offseason, nothing to spark ticket sales. Sticking with DiLeo would continue that trend. The franchise would continue to fly under the radar, with people thinking they were headed for a carbon copy of this past season. You sign someone with a high profile, you make a splash, spark some interest, make it clear you have your long-term guy. That gets people talking, but you've also put yourself on the ledge there. The Elton Brand signing got people talking, sparking interest. It didn't resonate the way it might have.
2.) The players don't seem sold on DiLeo. We know what Theo Ratliff said right after the loss. That was a blow to DiLeo. In speaking with the rest of the team, and with those around the team, the vibe is two-fold. There are those that said all the right things -- that DiLeo should be brought back, he did a good job, etc. -- but there were others, like Iguodala, who seemed less than effusive in their praise. But take all this with a grain of salt. The mentality of NBA players doesn't always seem conducive to accepting blame, but it can often be conducive to distributing blame. How much of that played a part in dumping on DiLeo that night and, slightly, the next day? Ratliff wasn't the only guy questioning hether DiLeo was the right guy, he was just the only one who did it on the record.
3.) These guys need a take-no-prisoners type of coach ... that's what I've heard. Can DiLeo be that kind of coach? We aren't allowed to watch the heart of practice, so who knows what he is saying to guys. Who knows what he is demanding, what mistakes he won't allow. Ratliff said he was lenient, and in watching many of the games, that seems to be a justified position. But the NBA isn't like coaching in college, you can create more problems than you solve by ruling with an iron fist. But how much of an impact did DiLeo's background have on the players? He came from the front office, he hadn't been a head coach for two decades, and that was in another country. It's not hard to see how the players might have scoffed at his authority from the second he stepped into the role. Can DiLeo overcome that? Or must Stefanski bring someone in with the authority from Day 1?
So what's happening right now? The Sixers are saying nothing is happening yet. And after many calls around the league, to agents, coaches, etc. that seems to be the case. The first thing to happen will be Stefanski and DiLeo sitting down and deciding. That does not seem to have happened yet. It seems both sides have taken a few days to step away. If, when that does happen, the decision is to move DiLeo back to the front office and begin a coaching search, the speculation will begin in earnest. Until then, the speculation will just be luke warm. But here it is. Some names, rumors, reasons for speculation, etc. Remember, this is speculation.
1.) Eddie Jordan, formerly the Washington Wizards coach. He worked with Stefanski while Stefanski was in New Jersey. Thus the connection. Jordan's name has been mentioned for this spot, as well as the Sacramento Kings job.
2.) Jay Wright, coach of Villanova. You couldn't make a bigger splash than hiring Jay Wright from an in-town university fresh off a Final Four appearance.
3.) Doug Collins. The Chicago connection (think, Iguodala), and his reputation as a hard-nosed coach, makes him a top choice.
4.) Avery Johnson. We've heard this name many times.
5.) Jeff Van Gundy. You can't do much better in terms of discipline, focus.
Like we said, it's impossible to nail down candidates because right now the job is still DiLeo's and former NBA coaches, heck all coaches, refuse to step on the toes of a fellow coach -- it's like crossing the picket line.
Soon we'll know more.