For the first time since 2013, the Sixers are searching for a new head coach.
With the team announcing Monday that it has fired Brett Brown, we’re kicking off a series analyzing candidates to replace Brown with Tyronn Lue.
According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Sixers’ “plan for a head coach will focus on” the 43-year-old Lue, who’s currently an assistant with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reports Lue is “intrigued with the Sixers” and also has drawn interest from the Nets and Pelicans.
Let’s examine the case for and against hiring Lue:
The case for Lue
There will be jokes aplenty about Lue if he becomes the Sixers’ next coach. Allen Iverson and many other Sixers fans will no doubt remember Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals and the disdainful step Iverson took over Lue after draining a baseline jumper.
Once the laughter dies down, there are quite a few positives on Lue’s resume. He took over as the Cavs’ head coach during the middle of the 2015-16 season and immediately helped the franchise win its first NBA title. He won Eastern Conference championships the next two seasons, as well, falling to the Warriors’ dynasty in the NBA Finals. Having an ultra-versatile basketball savant and one of the greatest players ever on your team in LeBron James doesn’t hurt, but Lue’s playoff success should give him an edge over many other potential candidates.
It’s interesting that Lue has talked before about wanting to coach a team with younger players. One imagines he’d enjoy working with 24-year-old Ben Simmons and 26-year-old Joel Embiid.
“I’ve seen that side. I’ve dealt with a veteran team for the last three years,” Lue told William C. Rhoden for a 2018 story in The Undefeated. “If I get a chance or an opportunity, I would like to coach younger talent to see if I can coach those guys to take on my personality, coach them and mold them to the team I want them to be.”
Another factor in Lue’s favor is that he seems to get along well with his players and understand where they’re coming from. At the same time, he aims to enforce certain standards.
“The thing with Phil (Jackson) is he did all of his coaching in practice,” Lue told reporters in 2016 of his former Lakers coach. “He always held Kobe (Bryant) and (Shaquille O’Neal) more accountable than anyone else on the team. It always starts at the top and trickles down to the bottom. If you can get the respect of your best players, everyone else will fall in line.”
The case against Lue
Lue clearly has some attractive traits as a coach, but it’s difficult to assess him. After James departed for the Lakers and Cleveland started the 2018-19 season with six straight losses, Lue was fired.
The primary objective for Lue’s offenses — outside of those six games — was to have James handle the ball and surround him with shooters. We’ll see how exactly the Sixers restructure their roster, but that style wouldn’t have fit this year’s team well. The Sixers posted up far more than anyone else in the NBA, largely because Embiid is the league’s best high-volume post-up scorer.
In reflecting Sunday on this season, Brown acknowledged that “space became an enormous issue,” one he could never fix. Does Lue have the ingenuity to find solutions, the experience to see something Brown might have missed, and the intuition to sense which experiments are worth a long-term investment?
It’s difficult to give a confident “yes” to any part of that question. Much of that falls on the roster the Sixers’ front office assembled, but some of it is because we don’t know much about Lue other than the success he had in tandem with James.