The case for and against Mike D'Antoni as Sixers head coach


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

With the team deciding to move on from Brett Brown, we’re continuing our series analyzing potential candidates to replace Brown with Mike D’Antoni.

We’ve looked at the following coaches so far: 

D’Antoni is a free agent after his contract expired with the Rockets, and, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, will “be considered among a group of candidates” for the Sixers’ opening. 

Let’s look at the case for and against hiring him as the Sixers’ next head coach:

The case for D’Antoni 

“Not his first rodeo” feels like an appropriate way to start here. D’Antoni has seen it all, coaching 1,199 regular-season NBA games after beginning his career on the sidelines in Italy. He’s a two-time Coach of the Year and an offensive innovator. 

With Steve Nash running the show, his “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns had a fluid, motion-heavy offense that rated best in the NBA from the 2004-05 through ’06-’07 seasons. And with James Harden running the show, getting ample isolation opportunities and putting up massive scoring numbers, the Rockets went 217-101 over the past four seasons. Houston played without a traditional center after trading away Clint Capela in February.  

Though Brown talked a lot about wanting to play fast with Ben Simmons, the Sixers were 20th in pace this season. D’Antoni might just have the right perspective on how to help Simmons thrive in transition while also maximizing him in half-court offense.

The easygoing D’Antoni knows Elton Brand through his stint as an associate head coach with the Sixers in 2015-2016, the current general manager’s final year as a player. He’s also familiar with Joel Embiid, who was rehabbing from a broken navicular bone and impressed D’Antoni.

"He was working out pretty good, and he was playing some one-on-ones and stuff,” D’Antoni told reporters in 2017. “You could tell. Just talk to him. You knew he had talent, but then he has an intelligence for the game also, so it was a no-brainer."

The case against D’Antoni 

The furthest D’Antoni has been in 10 playoff appearances is the conference finals. He’s lost all three times he’s been there. There are a variety of factors contributing to D’Antoni never coaching in the NBA Finals, some of which are random and unfortunate — Amar'e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw’s suspensions for leaving the bench in the 2007 playoffs comes to mind, as does Houston’s inconceivable stretch of 27 straight missed three-pointers in Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals. Ultimately, though, the fact that D’Antoni’s approach has never translated to a conference championship is a mark against him. 

The Rockets’ small-ball style was a sharp contrast to the Sixers’ failed attempt at “bully ball.” It is worth mentioning, however, that Brown often said he wanted his players to “hunt threes,” and yet the Sixers were 22nd in three-point attempts. Houston led the NBA in three-pointers attempted every season under D’Antoni, but that’s largely because Rockets GM Daryl Morey worked to build a team that sought threes, free throws and attempts at the rim — analytically desirable shots.  

The 2019-20 Sixers did not have such a roster and certainly wouldn’t have aligned with D’Antoni’s preferred style. Unless the Sixers dramatically change their team, it does not initially appear to be a natural fit. Perhaps D’Antoni would be willing to adopt a new paradigm, but it’s difficult to imagine him coaching a team that leads the NBA in post-ups by a wide margin, as the Sixers did this past season. 

While D’Antoni is a likable personality, he doesn’t have a spotless track record with “accountability,” “chemistry” and other qualities outside of X’s and O’s that deserve consideration. The tension between Chris Paul and Harden and eventual breakup of that duo certainly isn’t analogous to Embiid and Ben Simmons, but it doesn’t reflect well on D’Antoni. In a piece covering various sources of friction the Rockets dealt with last summer, ESPN’s Tim McMahon wrote that D’Antoni “acknowledges he's nonconfrontational to a fault.”

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