“Change can and will be uncomfortable,” Sixers general manager Elton Brand said on Aug. 25 after firing Brett Brown as head coach, “but it’s necessary.”
Replacing Brown, he intimated, wasn’t the only big change on the horizon. Brand said he was doing a “thorough assessment” of the team’s front office.
At the moment, the Sixers haven’t made any front-office personnel adjustments. The roster will be the same as the one swept by the Celtics in the first round until there are opportunities to change it through the draft, free agency and trades. And, though the Sixers and Tyronn Lue have “strong mutual interest” according to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, a source told NBC Sports Philadelphia on Thursday that the team had not interviewed Lue for head coach at that time. All the promised changes are still looming.
The Sixers likely can’t afford to err much in any area this offseason. Brand was firm in saying the team will move on from the misguided collaborative front office model. Altering the decision-making process is logical, but it would sure seem sensible to also have different personnel in place for the major choices to come about how to repair a team that performed multiple rungs below its expectations.
Head coach is an important job, of course, but how much impact can a “new voice” have?
Ben Simmons’ position and role is one item the Sixers’ next head coach will have to figure out. Should he be a point guard or point forward? If Al Horford remains on the roster, how and when is he best used? Do any defensive principles, like the team’s preference for having the guard work over screens and the big man drop, need to be tweaked? What’s the most effective way to use Joel Embiid’s post-up dominance within a modern NBA offense?
Lue might have good answers to all the questions above, but he’s never faced a challenge quite like this one.
The idea that Lue can motivate Simmons and Embiid and instill accountability sounds appealing. If he ultimately becomes the team’s next head coach, expect him to demand more from the Sixers' two All-Stars.
“I think it starts from the top guy,” he said in a 2016 interview with Fox Sports Ohio. “On this team, I think it’s LeBron (James). You’ve gotta be able to hold him accountable. And once your best player is in check and he’s accountable, it’s easy for everybody else to follow in line. That’s what I learned from Phil Jackson, I learned from Doc (Rivers). Phil (Jackson) was harder on Kobe (Bryant) and (Shaquille O’Neal) than he was on anyone else. So it starts with those guys and works its way down.”
Perhaps such an approach will help Simmons and Embiid ascend to new levels. It’s far from a sure thing, though. The Sixers have been a volatile team in recent years. A lot has happened in a relatively short period of time — the Markelle Fultz saga; Burnergate; trades for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris; the chaos of last offseason — and little has been predictable. Keeping things as they were very well might've been the correct move at one stage.
“I just feel like, a couple years ago when we made the playoffs for the first time, we had a bunch of great players that were either drafted here or formed in Philly,” Embiid said on Aug. 23. “We had a bunch of guys that were in a great situation. We had JJ (Redick), Marco (Belinelli), Ersan (Ilyasova). I feel like going into those playoffs, we were just young. We were just learning.
“And then, as you know, we decided to trade a lot of it, with the picks and stuff, for Jimmy and Tobias. We got a bunch of great players in return. Like I said, it just didn’t happen. We could never find a rhythm this year. It is disappointing. There’s a lot of regrets. I felt like the focus was not always there, and we’ve gotta do better. We’ve just gotta look at ourselves in the mirror and just do better.”
Stagnation wouldn’t be acceptable now. Change isn’t inherently good, but the Sixers, in all likelihood, need to follow through on making intelligent changes beyond the head coach to become a contender.