As the Sixers decide on who will replace Brett Brown, it’s worth noting that the team has a qualified head coaching candidate on its staff already.
Ime Udoka, the team’s lead assistant and de facto defensive coordinator this past season under Brown, was listed by The Athletic’s Shams Charania as “among the early candidates” for the Sixers’ head coaching job. He’s also been given permission to talk with the Bulls about their head coaching position, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
On the latest Habershow podcast, The Athletic’s John Hollinger discussed Udoka with NBC Sports NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh. Hollinger, the former executive VP of basketball operations for the Grizzlies, thinks Udoka might be better suited to lead Chicago.
“More of a development situation there in Chicago rather than a win-now,” Hollinger said. “It’s a hard sell in Philly to fire Brett Brown and then hire his top assistant. … For me, Chicago maybe makes a little more sense for that one. But he’s a name that’s been out there since he was an assistant in San Antonio.”
Haberstroh pointed out that the Raptors had success firing Dwane Casey and promoting his top assistant, Nick Nurse, who won an NBA championship last season and was recently named Coach of the Year. There’s no valid rationale, in truth, to categorically endorse or reject the idea of internal promotions in coaching. Udoka wouldn’t provide the “new voice” Sixers general manager Elton Brand said he wants, but he’s only been in the organization for a year. He had substantial responsibilities under Gregg Popovich and Brown that suggest he’s ready to be a head coach, whether it’s in Philadelphia or elsewhere.
Tyronn Lue is reportedly a focus of the Sixers’ search, and Haberstroh thinks his experience coaching LeBron James and the Cavaliers could help him work with All-Stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Simmons and James both have Rich Paul as an agent.
“With Ty Lue, it’s super interesting,” Haberstroh said. “Especially with his relationship with LeBron and Klutch (Sports Group) over the years. He has experience dealing with that type of ego management with superstars.”
Haberstroh also threw out another name in thinking about theoretical possibilities for the Sixers job — Elton Brand’s former coach at Duke, Hall of Famer Mike Krzyzewski.
“I would not be surprised if that phone call has been made, but who knows,” Hollinger said. “There have been many overtures made to Coach K in that past and he’s resisted them all.”
As part of a larger conversation on coaching in the NBA, Haberstroh noted that there are now only five Black head coaches in the league after the Nets’ surprise decision Thursday to hire Steve Nash. Michael Jordan is the only Black majority owner in the NBA. There’s a major, troubling gap between the demographics of the players and the demographics of the coaches and ownership.
“It’s part of a wider question in the league, I think, which is people are going to hire based on relationships first,” Hollinger said. “And the people they know and the people they’re closest to tend to be people who look the most like them and have the same experiences. There’s that inevitable thing from ownership on down. I think that’s always been a big part of it. … The candidates are there and it just seems harder for them to break through.
“Every specific team will tell you that they made their own decision — I think that’s one of the things the NFL has had a lot of trouble with — with the Rooney Rule, it’s hard to tell any individual team, ‘You have to do this,’ but you can see what the result is in the aggregate.”