As predictable as Brett Brown’s dismissal following the Sixers' season-ending sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics is the public call to lure Jay Wright from the title-winning fiefdom he has created at Villanova to coach his hometown NBA team.
Does he want the job? Would he ever leave the comforts of the settings he has carefully built over two decades on the Main Line? Those are questions to which we do not know the answer. But make no mistake, Wright is the best option for the Sixers.
If you look at the hypothetical job description for the Sixers’ coaching vacancy, the future Hall of Famer checks every box.
First, and perhaps most importantly, whoever the Sixers’ next head coach is will have to navigate the ownership situation. Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment found itself under increasing scrutiny as the Sixers’ season faded away in Orlando. Many fans point the blame in their direction for the uncertain state in which the basketball side of the operation finds itself.
Blame them, don’t blame them. It doesn’t matter. They’re not selling. And managing partner Josh Harris and co-managing partner David Blitzer do not need the Sixers to be successful to make money. Much like most modern sports owners, this franchise is their toy. And they’re going to play with it.
This does not come without upside. This ownership group has proven that they are willing to spend handsomely to put a winner on the floor. What’s required is a coach that can balance ensuring the money keeps coming to the product while allowing the managing partners to feel involved, but also keeping those same individuals at arm’s length from the day-to-day operation.
Sounds an awful lot like dealing with boosters, doesn’t it?
Then there’s the front office situation. General manager Elton Brand told reporters Tuesday the franchise will move away from the collaborative approach to decision-making that has become the ire of the fan base. Time will tell if Brand is actually given the autonomy his title would suggest. But either way, the next head coach of the Sixers will likely have to work with a previously established power structure to get the things he truly needs to compete.
Sounds an awful lot like dealing with a university president, doesn’t it?
Lastly, the next Sixers’ head coach will have to get his two biggest stars to commit in a fashion they never did under Brown. It’s not a matter of effort for Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons. It’s a matter of sacrifice.
In Embiid’s case, it means giving up the three-point line and the perimeter ball handling and honing the skills this team truly needs from him offensively: post scoring and making the right decisions out of double teams. The mindset also has to change from just ensuring Embiid is healthy for the playoffs to making sure he’s ready for them. His endurance level needs to improve and he needs to be the defensive anchor. That all comes with practicing and playing.
For Simmons, the team needs him to sacrifice his assist total so that he can cut down on the turnover total. On the whole, the Sixers didn’t value the ball enough under Brown — especially against the good teams. That starts with Simmons.
The 24-year-old All-Star also needs to shoot more. Not to be individually great — he already is. But to make the team great. He’s the team’s best player and with that comes the responsibility of shooting big shots. Not all of them, but some of them.
As much angst as there is about the Sixers’ pieces not fitting, sometimes you just need your stars to change their shape to put the puzzle together. To convince them that the best thing for us is the best thing for them.
Sounds an awful lot like recruiting, doesn’t it?
Wright can coach X's and O's. But that’s not really what this franchise requires from a head coach right now. It will take a person with the people skills to navigate the hurdles that separate this franchise from actual title contention. If there’s one thing we know from his two decades at Villanova, it’s that Wright knows how to manage up and manage down in order to create a championship culture. (While also having the media eating from his hand.)
To steal from Tommy Boy, Wright can sell a ketchup popsicle to a lady wearing white gloves. And that’s the level of the challenge the next Sixers coach faces.