Sixers

A potential strong dark horse candidate for Sixers head coach

Sixers

For the first time since 2013, the Sixers are searching for a new head coach. 

With the team deciding last week to move on from Brett Brown, we’re continuing our series analyzing candidates to replace Brown with Dave Joerger. We’ve looked so far at Tyronn Lue, Jay Wright, Ime Udoka, Jason Kidd and Nate McMillan

The Athletic’s Shams Charania named Joerger as an early candidate for the Sixers’ head coaching vacancy. Joerger had stints with the Grizzlies and Kings. He was relieved of his duties in Sacramento after the 2018-19 season more for his tenuous relationship with since-departed executive Vlade Divac than his record.

We look at the case for and against hiring Joerger to replace Brown:

The case for Joerger

Joerger was wildly successful during his stints in the IBL, CBA and what was then the NBA’s D-League. He captured five championships during his time in those leagues, including one with the Dakota Wizards — which have now become the Santa Cruz Warriors — in the D-League.

Joerger was hired as an assistant by the Grizzlies in 2007 and served under two former Sixers in Marc Iavaroni and Lionel Hollins. Under Hollins, Joerger became a top assistant and took over the team’s defense. The team went from being 21st in defensive rating in 2008-09 to second by 2012-13. He helped usher in the “Grit and Grind” era of Grizzlies basketball. Joerger then took over after Hollins was let go. Joerger and the Grizzlies took the No. 2 seed Thunder to seven games before losing in the first round in 2013-14. The following season, Joerger got Memphis to the second round of the playoffs where it lost to the eventual NBA champion Warriors. Joerger was let go the following season after the Grizzlies were swept in the first round.

 

Two (2!) days after Memphis let him go, Sacramento scooped him up. After two tough seasons, Joerger led the Kings to a 39-43 record in 2018-19, their best mark since 2005-06. He did that without a single All-Star on the roster and with only one regular contributor over the age of 26 that was there all season — former Sixers great Nemanja Bjelica, who was 30. Joerger’s departure with Sacramento had much more to do with his icy relationship with Divac than his ability as a coach.

The 46-year-old compiled a 147-99 record with the Grizzlies, producing the highest winning percentage in the team’s history, and a 98-148 mark with the Kings. In both scenarios, those teams likely reached their ceiling and Joerger did well to get the most out of both rosters.

His defensive-minded coaching style should line up with GM Elton Brand’s philosophy, but Joerger has also shown a willingness to adjust his offensive schemes to suit his personnel. Though the Sixers should try to move on from Al Horford, if he’s still on the roster next season, Joerger has shown an ability to use bigger lineups. With Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis, Joerger’s team played at one of the slower paces in the league. When he coached De’Aaron Fox, one of the fastest players in the NBA, the Kings finished fifth in pace in 2018-19.

While Joerger’s approach may appear to be old school from the outside, he’s also shown a willingness to adopt analytics. This past year, he spoke at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, an event that was co-founded and is co-chaired by Rockets GM Daryl Morey.

For the accountability concerns some may have, Joerger has never been afraid to ruffle feathers, whether that be with his own players or his bosses.

As a tactician, Joerger is one of the most revered coaches in the league. While Joerger was still under contract with the Grizzlies, the late Flip Saunders and the Timberwolves courted Joerger to possibly swing a rare coach trade. Doc Rivers and Erik Spoelstra, two of the most respected coaches in the NBA, spoke about how challenging it is to coach against Joerger as guests on Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast.

Both were asked about which NBA coach is toughest to game plan against. Spoelstra went to Joerger.

 

“He is a damn good game coach,” Spoelstra said. “He keeps you on your toes and you can’t prepare for a lot of things [he does].”

Rivers concurred, acknowledging Joerger was the first coach that came to his mind.

“No one wanted to play Sacramento [in 2018-19],” Rivers said. “He runs great stuff. He really does. Quirky, which makes him even better in some ways.”

The case against Joerger

Obviously, there is a lot to like about Joerger. He’s had success, he’s young and he’s respected around the league. His biggest problem has been his clashes with executives.

While with the Grizzlies, reported disagreements with the front office led to Joerger pursuing the opportunity with Minnesota. When Joerger was fired by Memphis, it hardly seemed like it had much to do with the team’s 42-40 record during an injury-riddled season. It seemed like both sides were ready to part ways.

While in Sacramento, Joerger had reported issues with both front office members and players. He publicly called out Divac for his decision to draft Marvin Bagley III over budding superstar Luka Doncic in the 2018 draft. Joerger was correct in his assessment, but Divac didn’t take too kindly to the public criticism. There was a reported incident with Joerger kicking assistant GM Brandon Williams out of a shootaround as tensions between the two heightened. There were also reported issues with Buddy Hield, a popular trade target among Sixers fans.

The sentiment around Brown toward the end of his time here seemed to be, “He’s a good guy but … .” The sentiment around Joerger seems to be, “He’s a good coach but … .” While it’s fair to think All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons need their next head coach to give them a push, it’s also fair to wonder if Joerger can strike an appropriate balance. Dealing with stars and star personalities isn’t something he’s had to do much of.

Perhaps he learned his lessons after such unceremonious ousters in Memphis and Sacramento. It’s also fair to note that both front office situations could be kindly categorized as dysfunctional. At the very least, Brand should bring him in for an interview to get a feel for his personality. If Brand and Joerger hit it off, Joerger could be a strong dark horse candidate for the Sixers.