John Smallwood: Sixers need to pull trigger soon on coach

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Sixers GM Ed Stefanski has taken his time searching for the 76ers' next coach. (David Maialetti/Staff file photo)

CAN WE GET OFF the roundabout now?

It's been more than a month since 76ers president/general manager Ed Stefanski fired first-year head coach Eddie Jordan and initiated the process to find his successor.

Since then, Stefanski and his search committee of assistant general manager Tony DiLeo and consultant Gene Shue have interviewed a variety of coaching candidates.

They've had sit-downs with guys who have NBA head-coaching experience like Avery Johnson, Doug Collins and Sam Mitchell.

They've interviewed rising assistant coaches looking for their first opportunity to run a show, like Dan Majerle, of the Phoenix Suns, and Monty Williams, of the Portland Trail Blazers.

They've even interviewed a WNBA championship coach in former Detroit Pistons "Bad Boy" Bill Laimbeer, who guided the now-Oklahoma Shock to three WNBA titles while they were based in the Motor City.

They've had interview requests declined by Jeff Van Gundy, who coached the New York Knicks to the 1999 NBA Finals, and former NBA point guard Mark Jackson, who has no coaching experience other than running basketball camps for kids.

OK, Ed, I get it.

You're exercising due diligence.

You don't want to repeat the same mistake you did when you zeroed in on Jordan from the onset and only gave token interviews to other candidates.

But the truth is the Sixers could visit every other NBA team and every Top 25 college program if they want to, and as Stefanski has repeatedly said, "talk to as many qualified candidates as possible."

Make a decision already.

Stefanski & Co. already have enough information.

Through the NBA grapevine, they know which candidates are seriously interested in their job, which ones would be using them as a bargaining chip against somebody else and which ones want no part of Philadelphia.

The Sixers might act like they have all the time in the world, but actually the clock is ticking.

There are currently four coaching vacancies. That number could soon grow.

A lot of those jobs look better than the Sixers' situation. And if the Sixers don't get lucky in next week's NBA draft lottery, they will look even less attractive.

Sometime soon some team is going to make a hire. When that domino falls, it will begin a chain reaction of hiring.

As one of the least attractive situations, it is in the Sixers' best interest to make one of the first hires. Otherwise, they'll end up picking through leftovers.

My first choice would be Johnson, who guided the Dallas Mavericks to the 2006 NBA Finals.

I know there is speculation that Johnson really wants to coach his hometown New Orleans Hornets. But I'm not so sure the feeling is reciprocated.

The Hornets fired Byron Scott on Nov. 12, 2009. They've had plenty of time to decide if Johnson is their guy. If he were at the top of their list, he already would have been hired. Instead, he is on an interview list that includes Jackson, Williams and Dallas assistant Dwane Casey - whom the Sixers interviewed before hiring Jordan - Boston Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau, and longtime NBA coach/TV commentator Mike Fratello.

I'm betting that if the Sixers offered their job to Johnson, who is ready to get back into coaching after spending the last two seasons in ESPN's analysis booth, he would have a hard time turning it down to wait for an offer from New Orleans that may not come.

If not Johnson, then I'd go for Majerle . . .

I'm not afraid of a newbie, one who doesn't have prior NBA head-coaching experience.

The four most successful championship coaches in recent history - Phil Jackson (10 NBA titles), Pat Riley (five), Gregg Popovich (four) and Rudy Tomjanovich (two) - all led teams to titles in their first NBA head-coaching jobs.

The Sixers don't need another recycled coach who has been on the NBA treadmill. This team needs a coach who not only has fresh approaches and ideas, but one who is not so far removed from his playing days that he doesn't understand the motivations of today's players.

Majerle is a three-time NBA All-Star who played 14 seasons from 1988 to 2002. He was a no-nonsense competitor whose all-out style during his career with Phoenix inspired the Suns to create the "Dan Majerle Hustle Award," which is given to the player who best exemplifies Majerle's work ethic.

The Sixers' players, particularly the ones who were supposed to lead by example, lost focus aboard Jordan's ship.

Both Johnson and Majerle were players from small schools who had to scrap for every ounce of respect they gained during their NBA careers. They likely would know which buttons to push to get the Sixers to give maximum effort.

But those are just my top choices.

The real point is that the Sixers have done enough job searching and interviewing.

By now, they know what they want in a coach, and they likely know who they want that coach to be.

So make the first move and hire him now because if another domino falls first, the Sixers may very well find themselves picking last.

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smallwj@phillynews.com.

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