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Mike D’Antoni beginning to emerge as front runner for Sixers head coaching vacancy

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Los Angeles Lakers v Houston Rockets - Game Four Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

It’s sounding like the rumors of former Houston Rockets head Coach Mike D’Antoni becoming the next Sixers head coach are heating up. D’Antoni, 69, has been NBA Coach of the Year twice, both in 2004-2005, spearheading the “7 seconds or less” Suns as well as the 2017 Houston Rockets. Houston under MDA has been known for their analytics friendly “Morey Ball” style that eschews mid range jumpers and post ups in favor of a barrage of 3s and shots at the rim, buttressed by as many free throws as possible. The Sixers could certainly use a healthy injection of some modern analytics into their roster and playing style. They were one of the league leaders in both inefficient midrange jump shot attempts and long two pointers this season; they struggled to get to the line as well. If D’Antoni even had a seat at the table in their front office moving forwards the way Brett Brown used to, perhaps he could bring some innovative thinking to a table that has seemed at times resistant to embrace changes the league has seen over the last couple of years as well.

The Sixers two superstars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons certainly don’t fit D’Antoni’s style on paper; Embiid preferring to post up, and Simmons being famously reluctant to shoot triples, although Simmons relentlessly hunts 3s for teammates and spends his time taking high percentage shots at the rim. Contrast with both D’Antoni’s suns and Rockets teams that put up not just league leading but league altering numbers of 3s, D’Antoni has modernized the NBA at intervals spanning 10 years apart. D’Antoni has certainly been one of the game’s most creative signal callers, arguably playing as big of a role as Steph Curry has in inciting the 3 point revolution.

Could this mean the Sixers will be pursuing the type of triple threat point guard like a Chris Paul, as Kevin O’Connor speculates? Paul played for D’Antoni for a couple of seasons in Houston. Had it not been for a hamstring injury suffered in 2018, they may have knocked off the greatest team ever assembled in Golden State.

It’s hard to picture the Sixers offense with D’Antoni while without someone like Paul. Would Shake Milton be handed the reigns? Where D’Antoni has famously struggled was in Los Angeles (with Dwight Howard who loved to post up and Kobe Bryant who loved the mid-range iso) and in New York (with Carmelo Anthony who loved the midrange iso). There were no 3 point and pass-happy Hall of Famer like a Steve Nash or James Harden around in those instances.

Not long ago, we learned per Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer that D’Antoni was a real contender for the gig, despite the apparent oddness of fit.

Per Pompey:

“Has Mike D’Antoni really emerged as the front-runner for the 76ers’ head-coaching vacancy even though his style doesn’t fit the team? Or is this just a smokescreen? Multiple league sources say it’s for real.”

The article continues:

“But a league source said the job could be D’Antoni’s to lose. The source said the 69-year-old would have to bomb his interview with the Sixers owners not to be offered the job, and said D’Antoni is the candidate they want. A team source denied that, saying the ownership won’t know who it wants until candidates are interviewed.”

More smoke for the Mike D fire, when D’Antoni was an assistant with the Sixers under Brett Brown, there were always rumblings that the Bryan Colangelo (who was the GM of those Steve Nash, D’Antoni led Suns) helmed front office considered replacing Brown with MDA.

There may also be others in the Sixers organization who love D’Antoni in team CEO Scott O’Neil:

Per GM Elton Brand, he will be the one triggering the head coaching search, as well as an evaluation of the front office, with perhaps some new hires to come. Although a piece by Jabari Young for CNBC recently sited sources who believe O’Neil could play a role in the team’s off season.

Young reports:

“According to two former NBA executives, team CEO Scott O’Neil has long wanted control of basketball operations since his days with the New York Knicks, leaving some around the NBA to believe O’Neil is in charge....

The new coach will also need to work with Brand and/or O’Neil to reconstruct a roster that wasn’t good enough to advance past the first round this season despite a $109 million investment in Al Horford and $180 million to re-sign forward Tobias Harris.”

It feels like there could be significant internal momentum for D’Antoni.

At one point Tyronn Lue, the Clippers assistant, who won a championship with the Cavaliers, appeared to be the front runner for this job:

But based on the new and old rumors of interest in D’Antoni, it’s beginning to seem more and more likely he could be tapped as the next head coach. It would certainly spice things up and leave plenty of tea leave reading for us as the team enters a massive off-season.